Testimony Before the Committee on Small Business of the New York City Council

By Victor Wong, Director, Business Outreach

Good afternoon. My name is Victor Wong and I am the Director of Business Outreach at the Partnership for New York City. Over the past six months, we have been working to develop GoBizNYC, a coalition of small business groups representing over 25,000 small businesses across the five boroughs—that’s one in ten of all our city’s small businesses. Our supporters include prominent small business leaders as well as chambers of commerce, local development corporations, industry associations, and community-based organizations.

Many of these groups carried out their own efforts to support local businesses in the aftermath of Sandy. Our Partnership Fund provided Asian Americans for Equality and the Mayor’s Fund with over $800,000 in funding so that they could distribute emergency grants to Lower Manhattan businesses damaged by the storm.

But much more remains to be done. Many businesses continue to struggle. The following are concerns we are hearing from small business owners in hard-hit areas of Staten Island, Coney Island, and the Rockaways.

The first concern is streamlined access to financial relief. Small businesses needed immediate access to capital in order to operate and rebuild following the storm. Many complain that resources of various programs were not available quickly enough and that they involved substantial paperwork, documentation, and processing time. Some damaged firms were also contracted to help with repairs and they complain about failure to pay them in a timely fashion.

The second concern is fines. Local Law 31, which the Council passed in April to waive certain regulatory fees, eased the financial burden on small businesses during the rebuilding and re-opening process. However, small businesses in affected communities have noted that, not long after re-opening, they have been hit with numerous fines for minor, non-health violations. Though these business owners certainly don’t hold themselves to be above the law, they do want to convey that because of their already tenuous financial situation, these fines have a heavier impact than usual as they struggle to fully recover and get back on their feet. 

The third concern is a displaced customer base. In Coney Island, although the boardwalk has been revitalized and is now bustling with tourists again, there has been little spillover to local businesses in the community, which are still struggling to attract customers. Many residents who were displaced after the storm have permanently relocated, so business activity has remained well-below pre-storm levels. In Staten Island, residents in the most affected areas remain in limbo because they don’t know if they will be a part of the buyout program. As a result, local businesses in these areas are hesitant to reopen because they’re not sure if there will be anyone around for them to serve. This is a chicken or egg problem, in that residents depend on the products and services these businesses provide. The city should continue its efforts to help drive demand to these areas through tourism as well as by restoring residential communities to normalcy.

The fourth concern is public safety. Some business owners have noticed an uptick in criminal, gang, and illegal activity in their communities and are worried that this will become the norm. Public safety is an ongoing concern in these most vulnerable communities and the city should continue to devote adequate resources to address this issue.

As you know, small businesses are the economic engines and anchors of their communities. The city has done tremendous work to support those impacted by the storm. We appreciate the great strides that have already been made and we look forward to collaborating with you to help address many of the challenges that these business owners continue to face. Thank you.

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