Service of Small Business

April 3rd, 2014

Categories: Government, Retail, Small, Small Business

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

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6 Responses to “Service of Small Business”

  1. Lucrezia Said:

    Necessity forces me into stores, and I prefer small ones. Trouble is that because of existing conditions, many are either too costly or are extinct. This area, at one time, had an exceptionally good grocer, whose produce was A++, and whose butcher was top of the line. One day he vanished, having either retired or been pushed out of business. There is no acceptable language to describe what has taken its place…..and it thrives!

    It’s not so much that society gives lip service to supporting small businesses, it’s not always possible, for above and as many other reasons as there are people. My policy is to support the smaller shop whenever possible, and if that means paying more, there’s the satisfaction of feeling one has done the right thing.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    If there were more people like you there would be a far stronger network of small stores and when they would roar in unison, perhaps politicians would listen rather than toss them under the bus.

    I’m hoping for a small business renaissance –much like the Art and Crafts Movement that cropped up to balance the output of the industrial revolution. Your example of how the lousy replacement is thriving –and the neighborhood not supporting the hiqh quality smaller store so it could keep its doors open–is not encouraging.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    New York is trying. Have you noticed the invitation to small operations to operate for ten years without being taxed? Not all politicians are chowder heads!

    Arts and Crafts is a luxury, thriving best in robust economies. Another obstacle is that they are an acquired taste, which pares down potential customers of all incomes. The good news is that there will always be a following. More good news is that El Cheapo giants such as Wal-Mart, are not likely to compete!

    The lousy replacement mentioned is only one of many. It’s caused by a population change, one that appreciates dingy and questionable establishments.

  4. Peter C. Said:

    Three “Bravas” to you for this great post! I just wish more people cared.

    As is so often when we contemplate our modern society, the parallels to the late Roman Empire are striking. Government desperate for revenue to finance the increasingly malfunctioning and growing feeble elements in society — “To keep the peace.” –, dares not tax the rich and mighty on which it is dependent for its existence. Consequently, it has no choice but to plunder the functioning elements in our midst, the tradesman, the craftsman, the small business man. Unfortunately, eventually the will is beaten out of motivated entrepreneurs, and a skill is lost.

    Your writing about Batali and the Bastianichs, brings to mind a perfect example of this happening. Years ago there was an old family owned, reasonably priced Grand Street restaurant, Villa Pensa, which prided itself on its extensive menu of traditional Italian dishes well prepared and graciously served by experienced, professional waiters. Its specialty desert was Zabaione freshly cooked for you at your table. It was simple but heavenly.

    I haven’t had a decent Zabaione anywhere since Villa Pensa closed 25 years ago. Why? It may be a simple desert, but it is labor-intensive, takes time and the waiter must know what he is doing. You don’t just make batches, refrigerate them, and then scoop out servings like ice cream. There may be a chef left at some $250 a plate restaurant skilled enough to be capable of making it properly, but not at any restaurant I can afford to eat at.

    Sic transit gloria mundi.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    True that handmade crafts by artisans are expensive, but there was a time when manufactured goods by certain brands were amazing, lasted a long time and broke down only after 10-15 years, if then.

    The model changed to “let them toss this thing out and buy a new one in two years,” and the public played along. I’m thinking of mundane things like toasters, refrigerators, washing machines, dryers and electric coffee pots. I don’t suggest that we should buy handmade versions of such appliances, but wish that if you paid a bit more you knew you were getting a sturdier item. That, also, is no longer true.

    And don’t get me started on computers and computer programs.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Peter C,

    I wish I could make you a Zabaione! It wouldn’t nearly match what you ate at your favorite Italian restaurant but maybe after a lot of practice….

    Your comment: “Consequently, it has no choice but to plunder the functioning elements in our midst, the tradesman, the craftsman, the small business man. Unfortunately, eventually the will is beaten out of motivated entrepreneurs, and a skill is lost,” reminded me of a supremely talented, creative, skilled furniture maker who, after fighting for 26 years, gave it all up. When I heard, I wept.

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