Brooklyn merchants in ‘Survival Mode’ - seek help

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For Alexa Sokolov, the upcoming Hanukkah and Christmas season is make or break time for her Rich Frog Toys shop at 211 Church Avenue.

Between the city’s increasing regulations and the growing cost of doing business in the city, small shop owners like Sokolov are feeling the squeeze.

“The city could be doing more to help. They’re giving us no breaks and should be giving us a tax break or something,” said Sokolov.

Sokolov, a member of the Kensington Area Resident/Merchant Alliance (KARMA) along with the Coalition to Save Small Businesses, is urging the City Council to allow the Small Business Survival Act to get voted on before their last meeting of the year on Dec. 21.

If passed, the bill would establish a commercial lease renewal process in which both landlord and tenant would try to negotiate a fair rent increase. If an agreement isn’t reached, the matter would go before a not-for-profit arbitrator organization.

The push to get the Small Business Survival Act passed comes as the City Council is also debating and could vote on the Paid Sick Time Bill.

The Paid Sick Time bill would require businesses with 10 or fewer employees to provide five days of sick time, and businesses with 10 or more employees would be required to provide nine days sick time for all employees.

Businesses found in violation will be subject to a $1,000 fine for each infraction.

The bill, which several sources said was pushed hard by the Working Families Party, was introduced by Manhattan City Councilmember Gail Brewer.

Co-sponsoring the legislation were 38 Councilmembers including Brooklyn Councilmembers Mike Nelson, Letitia James, Vincent Gentile, David Yassky, Albert Vann, Darlene Mealy, Charles Barron, Sara Gonzalez, Diana Reyna, Mathieu Eugene, Domenic Recchia and Bill de Blasio.

Since being introduced late last month, the bill has been decried by business groups including the 5 Boro Chamber Alliance.

“The Paid Sick Time Bill is yet another example of a well-intentioned bill that carries the unintended consequence of hurting the very workers it seeks to help,” said Carl Hum, president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, on behalf of the 5 Boro Chamber Alliance. “The government-mandated burden of providing paid sick leave to all employees could lead some businesses to re-think hiring plans or, even worse, lay off workers as the burden becomes too much to bear, especially in this worrisome economy.”

But Brewer said the cost to small businesses would be marginal, and that not having the law in place is also a health issue.

OneCity Council member source said there are members in the Council who worry the bill could force small business owners to start paying their employees off the books at less pay to get around the legislation.

City Council member Lew Fidler thinks that neither bill will go for Council approval before the end of the year.

The Small Business Survival Act is pretty much dead in the water because it’s illegal to try to force commercial landlords into some form of rent control regulation, said Fidler.

Fidler said when similar legislation was tried in Berkeley, California, it was challenged by landlords successfully in court, which set a legal precedent.

“I don’t want to be negative and the spirit of the bill is very much welcome,” said Fidler.

“There is an effort being undertaken in the City Council leadership to find alternative ways to provide small business owners some relief, but it (legislation) has not made it to soup yet,” he added.

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