Archive for the ‘Small’ Category

Service of Small Towns: Chaos and The 2017 Republican Tax Bill

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018



We have yet to see the fallout caused by the Republican tax bill passed so close to year’s end. For one thing, citizens and communities were unprepared, making plenty of mistakes amid chaos especially for those trying to save a buck by prepaying local taxes in states with hefty ones.

In New York State, for example, the governor signed an executive order on December 22, permitting citizens to pre-pay state and local property taxes which many did because of the $10,000 cap that kicks in next year. But this order happened five days before Federal guidelines were posted and plenty of folks moved fast, as New Yorkers tend to do, to take tax advantage one last time so they may not have submitted what they needed so they wasted their time.

The guidelines stated that “those prepayments could be deducted only in limited circumstances, a decision that appeared to invalidate many taxpayers’ efforts and raised the prospect that local governments could come under pressure to refund millions of dollars,” according to Washington Post reporters Peter Jamison, Jeff Stein and Patricia Sullivan.

“‘This is not the way to do legislation that will massively impact the entire economy. It sets off a flurry of action from people trying to save money, and they act as rash as the legislators who pushed this thing through,’ said Philip Hackney, a tax expert at Louisiana State University.”

After the executive order but before the Federal guidelines, local news reported people waiting in the cold for over an hour in certain Long Island towns. When we called our town clerk an administrator gave us the amount and she asked us to get the check to the office by noon two days later, Friday, the last working day of 2017. We could not prepay any of the school tax and had to pay all of the rest [no option, as in some communities, to make a partial payment].

Gov. Cuomo

When we spoke, the administrator hadn’t yet been informed, and we didn’t yet know, that to count, we needed the 2018 assessment to accompany the check. We subsequently found that out, once reporters got wind of the guidelines, and in time. I posit that many sent or delivered a check without the bill. Others based the amount of their check on a previous assessment. No go.

The day after we called, we visited the clerk’s office. The staff of two had neat files and boxes filled with bills on tables. Their work hours are only 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday, and yet they were ready.

This city slicker was impressed at how buttoned up and prepared they were.

Normally, our property tax is paid by our mortgage company—it’s part of what we send them monthly—so we notified the company that we had prepaid. The town clerk’s office will also verify this and we expect the mortgage company will refund our payment. Fingers crossed.

Jamison, Stein and Sullivan wrote that Virginia counties don’t mail their assessments until February [and no doubt counties all over the country are in similar binds]. In addition, “The tax law explicitly states that the $10,000 deduction cap cannot be avoided by prepayment of 2018 income taxes but had left open the question of whether it applied to prepaid property taxes.”

So who knows if prepayment will eventually be disallowed? Think of the mess and confusion refunds and tax revisions would cause.

  • Will the fact that some have prepaid because they could and others can’t, for whatever reason, disqualify all who tried to save money?
  • Will a governor’s executive order count in the end?

This is one tiny example of the fallout from such a sweeping change followed by so little time to implement guidelines. Did those who voted for the bill realize the bedlam they were creating by their last minute vote simply to satisfy their egos to show they got something done in 2017?

In a country where big rules and is most admired, can you think of other instances where small works more efficiently?



Service of Small Business

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

standing on soapbox

America pays lip service to its reverence for small business and always has but like the parent who stays in bed or stares at the TV while he/she orders the children to attend religious services, it doesn’t do much to show its sincerity–at least in New York.

Take commercial renters tax. Who believes that big business pays this if a large corporation threatens to leave NYC? Reality check: Who cares if a small business packs up or closes down–pay the tax or else.

Then there are shakedowns. A friend who has owned a small store for years was recently told he had to post a sign in his window to alert the sanitation department that his garbage is picked up by a private company. He explained that he has nothing to do with garbage pickup, that he gives his garbage to his landlord who disposes of it. That doesn’t matter, said the unwelcome visitor. Insult to injury: In addition to such a hideous accent to his display window he is supposed to buy this sign and deal with the city to get it. Have you noticed such a sign? I haven’t.

Italian wineThe topic of landing hard on small business again came to mind when I read “Eataly wine store to close in liquor-license dispute” in Crain’s New York Business.

Lisa Fickenscher explained: “Celebrity chef Mario Batali will close the wine store at his Italian market, Eataly, for six months and pay a $500,000 fine to the New York State Liquor Authority as part of a settlement reached Tuesday with the state. Mr. Batali and his business partners, the mother and son team Lidia and Joe Bastianich, were accused of running afoul of state liquor laws prohibiting licensees from owning wine stores and wine importing or manufacturing businesses.” Mr. Bastianich “manufactures” wine at his Italian vineyard and the store imports wine. According to Fickenscher, it sells “1,000 vintages of Italian wine.”

In the agreement Lidia’s name will be removed from the license. Instead of losing their liquor license altogether, they agreed to pay the fine and close the store for half a year.

The Batali-Bastianich partnership while substantial– they also own a dozen restaurants in NYC and elsewhere–is small in comparison to Fortune 500 corporations. The business is hands-on and my guess the principals don’t have deep enough pockets to do what the giants do–pay lobbyists to change the law or create wrinkles in their favor.

yellow cabsAnd what about the proposed 30 cent surcharge on an already surcharge-bloated NYC yellow and green taxi fare: Add it to state, night and peak surcharges and you enter a cab owing $4.30. Mayor DeBlasio’s rationale for this increase is to help owners retrofit cars to accommodate wheelchairs. I am of average height and weight and can hardly fit in some of the cabs so please–short of adding a U-Haul, there’s no way these vehicles can be made wheelchair-friendly. So they must collect the tax and gain no advantage from it?

Further, how will this affect tips? Is it enough to make a difference except to fleet owners? Will owners of a single cab suffer from a drop in business? Let’s face it: Hedge fund and tech-billionaires don’t need cabs, they use overpriced car services and own limos. People with hefty expense accounts aren’t affected and many also hire car services.  Who else will feel the squeeze? People on fixed or low incomes who need cabs to get to doctor or hospital appointments. Who cares about them? They don’t pay big taxes, do they?

Am I looking at these examples through the eyes of a small business owner and therefore not clearly and objectively? Do you have other examples to add? Is it a New York phenomena or across the board?

small and big business

Service of Specialty Stores

Monday, June 27th, 2011


Some amuse themselves for hours in hardware or jewelry stores and I’ve covered paper, art, electronics and fur operations.

 I’ve lived in NYC most of my life and just discovered N.Y. Cake. If you like to bake or dream of cakes, pies and cupcakes, it’s a hoot to visit. In business 30 years [the website history notes “more than 25” though a headline boasts the higher number], I didn’t need it before because other venues like card shops and convenient party stores carried what I was looking for. Most no longer do or they are out of business.

cupcakeliner2At N.Y. Cake there are unusual birthday candles–some champagne bottles and others designed for sports fans such as baseball bats. Shelves are filled with sugar calla lilies, roses and rosebuds in a range of sizes and colors as well as daisies, magnolia and other blossoms. Along with small silver and gold balls–drageesI saw giant pearls, leaves, marzipan fruits, containers of multi-colored sprinkles and a color wheel’s worth of sugar crystals.

cupcake-linerI enjoyed the selection of polka dot patterned paper cupcake liners, cake and pie pans and decorating equipment. A man stood at a key juncture of the store to point out what customers were looking for as soon as he saw someone’s confused or frustrated expression. I recommend that you take a quick look around before you ask him for directions to take in the selection.

A fisherman enjoying a shop filled with fishing equipment or a car lover at the auto show would have as much fun as I did in this place.

As larger stores cut down on inventory and eliminate specialty items that don’t generate appropriate sales margins do you think we’ll revert to more such specialty stores? What are your hobbies and what are your favorite places to feed them? Are there any specialty stores you miss or could use?


Service of Big Companies Making Small Ones Look Bad

Monday, April 4th, 2011


I know of three recent instances in which large corporations made small business people look incompetent or irresponsible. I had to share.

A friend thought he’d lost it when he tried to download a document to a major international office support business. No matter what he clicked or how hard he tried to follow the instructions, he couldn’t send it. He finally picked up his laptop and brought it to the store. When he got there–the branch doesn’t give out its phone number–the staffer said, “Oh, you have a Mac. You can’t always download from a Mac.” Couldn’t the website have noted this weakness in a warning? Is a customer’s time of no value? I empathize. When technology lets me down I always blame myself.

vintagetelephoneoperatorThe second instance happened to me. A client was setting up his booth at an exhibit in NYC. I was on call should he need anything as his partner wasn’t able to assist him. I didn’t leave my office from the time I knew he was scheduled to download at the dock at 12:45. I check the phone periodically–a habit–by picking up the handset to hear if the telltale quick dial tone indicates that I have messages. After 4, there was one. My client left it for me at 1:30. I was horrified. My voicemail is part of a major corporation’s package. It’s not the first time that the phone message system has let me down. I’ve been at work until 8 pm some nights and only the next morning do I get a message left for me at 4 or 5 pm the day before.

And then there are those missing emails. I know I don’t get all of mine. The proof: Just last week I read an email response sent to many people on a committee. I’m a member but I never got the original one. When I checked, I was on the first TO: list. Scary.

On the bright side, there was some service connected to these instances of big companies making small ones look bad: They translated into a post.

These examples are not a conspiracy to knock out the small guy. No company deliberately harms its customers. I nevertheless feel helpless and frustrated because I can’t control every aspect of my business. Can anyone? Do you have any similar examples?


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