BY MICAELA MACAGNONE | Councilmembers, merchants, restaurateurs and small business advocates recently rallied on the City Hall steps to slam the crushing fees and regulations that they say are making it ever harder for mom-and-pop shops to survive.
Councilmember Mark Gjonaj, chairperson of the Council’s Committee on Small Business, led the Wed., June 26, rally, which was swelled by more than 100 business owners.
The event was punctuated by bilingual chants, including “Wake up, City Hall!” “Salve Nuestra Bodega!” (save our bodegas), “Our Jobs Matter!” and “También Somos Inmigrantes!” (we are also immigrants).
Gjonaj was first to speak, and mostly addressed the burdensome regulations, taxes, fines and fees put on small business by local government.
“As chairman of the Committee on Small Business, I invite you to stand up for the mom-and-pop shops in your neighborhood, the small businesses and the bodegas in your neck of the woods, the 2.1 million small businesses in New York,” he said.
“Since the arrival of the retail chains and online shopping, small businesses have shut their doors after years of providing services to their local communities. Furthermore, it has become harder for startups to survive: Approximately 50 percent of small businesses and 80 percent of restaurants never make it past year five. The local small business industry has changed and small businesses are in danger. Owners are struggling to keep their dream and livelihood alive.”
The protesters specifically expressed their opposition to a paid-vacation measure that the mayor announced in January. The legislation, which has not gone anywhere in the face of strong opposition, would apply to all businesses with at least five employees.
However, according to a June survey of more than 1,470 New York City small business owners across all five boroughs, 79 percent of them said they can’t afford to provide employees with two-weeks paid vacation; 80 percent are concerned they would have to lay off employees, reduce hours or scale back operations if their business is required to provide the benefit; and 93 percent of small business owners are opposed to an unfunded mandate for two-weeks paid vacation.
There was also — as at previous Gjonaj-led rallies about small business — mention of the long-stymied Small Business Jobs Survival Act. Activist Marni Halasa, an S.B.J.S.A. advocate, held up a sign slamming Council Speaker Corey Johnson, claiming he was “anti-immigrant,” “pro-developer” and “anti-jobs.”
While Johnson, back in 2017, did claim to support the S.B.J.S.A. in a Twitter post, since becoming Council speaker, he has taken his name off of the bill as a co-sponsor. A spokesperson previously told this paper that, as opposed to before he was speaker, Johnson is now more selective about bills that he co-sponsors.
Other speakers included Andrew Rigie, of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, who emcee’d the event; William Rodriguez, president of the National Supermarket Association; Frank Garcia, chairperson of the New York State Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce; and Steve Bulger, of the U.S. Small Business Association.
Afterward, Reginald Johnson, Gjonaj’s chief of staff, said the Committee on Small Business chairperson is doing everything he can to help small merchants.
“Councilmember Gjonaj encourages business owners to contact our office with any issues that they are having,” he said. “For isolated incidences, we are always ready to do what we can to bring about a solution. And if we uncover larger and more systemic issues, the councilmember is aggressively proactive in advancing legislative fixes to the problems facing New York City’s mom-and-pop shops.”