Friday, September 30, 2005

Department of Small Business Services: Time to End the Charade

The City Council's Small business Committee held a series of hearings yesterday and we have asked Rob Bookman, the attorney for The New York Nitelife Association to post a comment on the hearing next week. Bookman is the unchallenged expert voice in defending small businesses from the city's regulatory octopus.

The hearing yesterday was not without some humor. Deputy Commissioner Mark Newhouse from the Department of Small Business Services testified in defense of his agency's record on protecting and defending the little guy. Cited was the agency’s processing of over 13,000 small business help requests, under a program called New York City Business Solutions. The citation misses the larger and more important point.

The DSBS is part of an administration that has been actively hostile in its dealings with neighborhood retailers. The hostility is directly linked to the city's tax and regulatory policies that have targeted stores on the neighborhood commercial strips. Supermarkets, bodegas, greengrocers and restaurants have complained vociferously about the onslaughts from a slew of city regulatory agencies. In fact, a recent survey demonstrated that fines and burdensome regulations are the biggest obstacle to small business sucess in New York City.

The Department has not taken any advocacy role in the defense of the constituency that they are supposed to represent. Quite the opposite: DSBS has instead actively gone out of its way to take the other side in small business battles. It actively intervened in the Ikea battle when it prevailed upon the Fifth Avenue BID to refrain from taking sides in that fight. It was silent on other big box battles as well, with Commissioner Walsh defending his pusillanimity by saying that his agency is also responsible for enhancing tax revenues.

If that were the case than the Department should be engaged in doing the kind of economic impact studies that provide data on the importance of neighborhood business and on the threat posed by box stores to this retail sector. Overseeing the BIDs –
neighborhood entities that fund their activities through self-imposed taxes – is not substantive support of small businesses.

The most egregious example of the agency's lack of any meaningful small business mission, a lack so great that the name of the Department should be changed to promote overall truth in advertising, is the eviction of the 23 small merchants from the Bronx Terminal Market. Here the Commissioner, in his charter mandated oversight role over the public markets, unceremoniously kicked out the BTM merchants, unilaterally abrogating their legally binding leases. Walsh did this, not of his own accord of course, in order to pave the way for a mega retail development that will replace the Market's small wholesalers with box stores.

This action was so entirely anti-small business that anyone who sincerely saw his agency's mission to protect small business would have resigned on the spot when asked to do this singularly dastardly act. Walsh, the careerist, simply continues unaffected by his betrayal of a constituency he is supposed to defend.