The Crazy Regulations For Sidewalk Signs, Pool Tables & Video Games

All politicians talks about their support for and the importance of small businesses. Every campaign season I hear new candidates and incumbents talk about lowering taxes and creating a one stop center to make life better for small businesses. Very few government officials go beyond this lip service and take a serious look at addressing the bureaucracy of permits and regulations small businesses must suffer through when dealing with government.

Here are a few examples of what small business owners have to deal with:

In Buffalo, NY if you want to advertise your business with a sidewalk sign you have to endure the following according to City Planner Chris Hawley:

If you own a restaurant and want to put a small “sandwich-style” chalkboard sign on the sidewalk in front of your business, you must first pay a $75 application fee. Then you need the permission of the commissioner of inspection services and the commissioner of public works. Then you need to post a $5,000 performance bond acceptable to the city controller, holding the city harmless in case somebody trips over the sign. Finally, you need the approval of the common council.

“And then once you go through all that, the permit lasts for 30 days and you have to go through the process all over again,”

In Buffalo, NY and many other Western New York municipalities if you own a bar or a restaurant and have a coin operated pool table or video game you have to obtain a license for such games. Obtaining a license involves having the location of the establishment and the responsible operator approved by the Commissioner of Police and the Commissioner of Permit and Inspection Services.

The application for the license requires the business owner to proivide the following information:
(a) The name, residence and business address of the owner and, in the case of a corporation, the names and addresses of all officers and directors and, as to the owner and each officer and director, the age, date of birth, place of birth, statement of convictions for any crimes and whether any machine owned by him or under his control had been previously ordered destroyed by a court and such additional information as the Commissioner of Permit and Inspection Services may require.

(b) The name, residence, age, date and place of birth of the person having responsible charge of the premises upon which the device is proposed to be located for use and operation and the location of the premises by street and number, the kind of establishment wherein the device will be located and the number of devices to be placed thereon.

(c) A certification by the applicant that no device owned by him and to be licensed is a gambling device and that no such device, when licensed, will be used or operated for gambling purposes. The Commissioner of Permit and Inspection Services may require such further information as he may deem necessary.

This process must be completed yearly and a fee paid per each video device yearly in the amount of $47.25. Pool tables are charged $31.50 yearly per table. The business owner must also provide:

copy of photo ID
copy of current utility bill listing their home address
copy of NY state tax ID certificate
copy of DBA Business Certificate or corporate filing receipt
proof of ownership of property (deed or lease agreement)
sign an affidavit that the owner or his partners do not have any pending Housing Court violations
sign an affidavit stating that they understand the business should not be open until all required licenses have been obtained.

All of this for a pool table or a video game! What are the possible health, safety or community concerns that justify the need for a license to operate a pool table or a video game?

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel reduced the number of license types needed by small business by 60% (117 to 49). In Chicago pet store owners not only had to get a pet shop license to sell gold fish, but they also needed an additional license to sell a fish bowl or fish food. Some auto repair shops obtained as many as four licenses: one to work on cars, one to store chemicals, one to hold tires, and one to sell windshield wipers.

In New York City Mayor Bloomberg has reduced the number of agencies involved in the process to obtain a sidewalk cafe from six to three, and cut the approval processing time roughly in half. The number of sidewalk cafes has grown from 700 to 1100.

Elected officials who want to help small businesses, need to dive into the nitty gritty details of permit/license applications. Regular meetings with the right people at the table will shed light on many additional examples of regulations and applications that need to be changed.

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