Council passes small biz relief bill 1

In recent years, business owners have scrambled to make sure signage is not in violation of city regulations. A new bill will extend the moratorium on penalties relating to signage and waive permit fees.

A bill providing relief for small businesses by extending the moratorium on penalties related to their outdoor signage and waiving permit fees was passed unanimously by the City Council last Thursday.

The bill expands and amends Local Law 28. According to Councilman Bob Holden (D-Middle Village), small businesses were hit with fines up to $20,000 for sign and awning violations. The bill that passed, Int. 2044, extends the expired two-year moratorium on sign-fee violations for two additional years. It also extends the temporary Department of Buildings assistance program for two additional years, which helps business owners in legalizing their signs.

The mayor supports the bill, a spokesperson told the Chronicle.

Holden had it. “Small businesses are the lifeblood our local economy, but they’ve been hemorrhaging throughout this pandemic,” he said. “Our city government has to be nurturing, not adversarial.”

The lawmaker added, “If the city doesn’t stop nickel-and-diming our small businesses and help them in meaningful ways, like this bill does, the only sign we’ll see on them is ‘out of business.’”

Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven is one stretch that has been impacted in recent years with owners replacing their signs, many of which had been up for decades, with smaller ones to avoid violations.

“Jamaica Avenue looks like crap,” Margie Schmidt, the owner of Schmidt’s Chocolate in Woodhaven, said last year.

Woodhaven Business Improvement District Executive Director Raquel Olivares said both business owners and herself were relieved and excited when they learned of the moratorium being extended.

“Our businesses are not ready to deal with this right now,” she told the Chronicle Tuesday. “They’re not.”

Olivares said a walk down Jamaica Avenue is not a scenic route.

“It looks so bad, all these stores with no awnings,” she said. “It looks depressing.”

Olivares believes the extension saved some area businesses. “Even before Covid, some businesses were thinking of closing because of this whole situation,” she said.

Frank Castelli, owner of Beat the Clock Printing Inc. on Jamaica Avenue, said he was extremely excited about the measure.

“Who cannot be happy about this?” he said Wednesday.

Castelli, like Olivares, said the extension could stop some closures.

“To give penalties for $5,000 or $7,000 or $10,000, a lot of these stores will end up closing,” he said. “You’re not going to have any businesses here.”

Mike Pinkhasov, owner of Theraputic Cuts barbershop on Alderton Street in Rego Park, felt relief when he learned of the bill: “Thank God,” he said.

Pinkhasov, who said he spent a lot of money on his awning, said the problem was prevalent in the area.

“People in my neighborhood got a lot of tickets,” he told the Chronicle. “It was $6,000, $7,000 per awning. Thank God I didn’t get fined.”

Queens Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Grech also praised the bill in a statement last week, noting that more than 1,000 borough businesses have closed since the start of the pandemic and that many surviving ones “are hanging on by the skin of their teeth, struggling to make payroll and keep the lights on,” and saying, “Fines for minor violations and permit fees are an unnecessary burden and the last thing business owners should be worrying about right now.”

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