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Small biz gets access to valuable asset: Info

Lloyd Cambridge (second from l.), director of the city Business Solutions Center in Jamaica, discusses financing options available to small businesses. Photo by Rich Bockmann
TimesLedger Newspapers

A-frame signs — the kind that dot the sidewalks outside bars, restaurants and other shops — are illegal in New York City, according to an obscure law still on the books, and could fetch small business owners a fine from the city Department of Sanitation.

If you hired a company to install a sign outside of your place of business, you might assume that company would obtain the necessary permit from the city Department of Buildings. If you did assume that, you would be wrong and could be on the hook for a fine of $5,000 or more for doing work without a permit.

For the novice entrepreneur, there exists what can seem like a never-ending list of government regulations that if not followed properly could sink a start-up business before it ever really gets started.

“A residential fine for work without a permit is $500,” Anthony Leano, a spokesman for the DOB told a small-business forum convened by City Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) in Jamaica last week.

“On a commercial building, it starts at $5,000 and can go up to $25,000,” he said. “That’ll put you out of business. It’s that simple.”

A handful of small business owners and entrepreneurs, with companies ranging from a discount store to a financial services provider, showed up for the forum to listen to representatives from a number of city, state and federal organizations on how to navigate the myriad of bureaucracies in order to start and grow a business, and they may need all the help they can get.

“Seven out of 10 businesses fail within the first five years,” said Lloyd Cambridge, director of the city’s Business Solutions center in Jamaica.

Cambridge said businesses primarily go under due to lack of resources, relationships, access to capital and, as the forum itself was a nod to, information.

State Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-St. Albans), chairman of the Assembly Committee on Small Business, said there are plenty of programs Albany offers, such as an initiative to double the number of contracts the state has with women- and minority-owned businesses.

“You should not think that your business can’t deal with the government,” he said. “Whether you sell food or paper, you can get these contracts.”

Scarborough was such a good source of information that Wills jokingly threatened to give his cellphone number out to the attendees. On a more serious note, the councilman noted the city has a program to fast track the paperwork for those who wanted to start a restaurant and said he was trying to build a restaurant row on Sutphin Boulevard south of the Long Island Rail Road station.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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