‘Sign’ of the times on Jamaica Avenue
by Ed Wendell
Jan 28, 2020 | 428 views | 0 0 comments | 22 22 recommendations | email to a friend | print
WBID executive director Raquel Olivares arranged a public meeting with Small Business Services and Department of Buildings for local business owners to voice concerns about fines they received for illegal signs and awnings, as well as information on how to proceed.
WBID executive director Raquel Olivares arranged a public meeting with Small Business Services and Department of Buildings for local business owners to voice concerns about fines they received for illegal signs and awnings, as well as information on how to proceed.
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We live in an era where those that run this city are working to decriminalize a lot of bad behavior. At the same time, the city throws the books at our small businesses, fining and penalizing them to the point where many of them feel like giving up.

That’s a common sentiment among business owners on Jamaica Avenue, and they came out to express those feelings at a meeting last week sponsored by the Woodhaven Business Improvement District in collaboration with Small Business Services and Department of Buildings.

If you recall, early last year businesses along Jamaica Avenue began frantically taking down their awnings and signs after word spread about several of them being hit with heavy fines for signs that ran afoul of the laws on the books.

Some of these signs had been up for years with no complaint, but all of a sudden a rash of businesses began to get inspected and fined. And these were no small fines; these were crippling fines in the thousands of dollars.

“The impact has been unfavorable for Jamaica Avenue,” Raquel Olivares, executive director of the Woodhaven Business Improvement District told me. “Some businesses took down their awnings. Some of these signs were up for more than 40 years.

“Taking down awnings leaves a big black hole on the wall that damages the view and character of Jamaica Avenue,” she continued. “It also puts them at a disadvantage when advertising their services.”

The city passed a moratorium on the fines which bought some time, but the clock has been ticking and it seems there are still no clear answers to some of the questions the business owners have.”

“The majority of these businesses can’t afford to pay for fines or for new awnings,” Olivares said. “Either way, they’ll be saddled with even more debt.”

Over 25 business owners attended the meeting, many of them concerned about what will happen to them on February 9, 2021, when the moratorium expires.

“It’s a very complicated issue, and we are working hand in hand with SBS to provide businesses with one-on-one consultations to provide extra support on the matter,” Olivares said. “So far, six consultations have been scheduled."

Personally, I think you have to be crazy to open a business in this city. It’s like going to a casino where you know the deck is stacked against you, and the dealer can change the rules at any time.

But our business owners are really special people. Think of what our avenue would look like if they decided that it wasn’t worth the cost or aggravation.

Instead, these business owners double-down and invest their money and risk their own financial well-being. How many of you would risk nearly everything on a business?

The business owners of Jamaica Avenue are investing in Woodhaven. And this meeting was a fresh reminder of just how important it is we support those who invest in our community.

The easiest way to do that is to shop locally. Buy your cold cuts at one of our delis. Get your groceries at one of our supermarkets. Get your bread and cakes from one of our bakeries.

Hit one of our hardware stores instead of Home Depot when you can. And when you’re looking for a place to eat, there are no doubt a dozen restaurants on the avenue you’ve never tried.

Again, think of how the avenue looked when all the signs and awnings were ripped down.

Now think about how our avenue would look if we started seeing shuttered storefronts because hardworking business owners couldn’t afford to pay fines for simply not adhering to some fairly arbitrary rules.

And as Olivares noted at the meeting, think about how many potential new businesses would be discouraged from investing here in the future.

“We will continue working with Small Business Services and all of our elected officials,” Olivares said. “The businesses will have our support.”

As residents, we can show our support by shopping locally and investing in those who invest in us.
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