The small business town hall was sponsored by Councilman Robert Cornegy, who represents Bed-Stuy and northern Crown Heights, and featured representatives from the Department of Consumer Affairs and the Health Department, local banks, Communty Board 3 and the Bed-Stuy Gateway BID.
The purpose was to listen to the issues affecting small businesses and provide information to help them grow, Cornegy said.
“Small businesses create jobs, support our tax base and shape the character of our city’s neighborhoods,” said Cornegy, who chairs the City Council’s small business committee.
“We have an obligation to support their success by sharing user-friendly information about their rights and responsibilities, especially when these rules are in flux.”
Right now two of those rules are in flux, including the new paid sick leave law and rules on restaurant inspections.
Dozens of small business owners came to Restoration Plaza at 1368 Fulton St. to ask the city questions about technical assistance, the community reinvestment act and being certified as a minority or woman-owned business.
But many others came to confront the city about what they described as a kafkaesque system of fines relating to the Health Department's letter-grading system.
Opponents of the letter grading system say it's too strict and disproportionately penalizes restaurants for minor offenses.
In response, the city has proposed to tone down those rules, a Health Department official said.
Under the proposed rule change, if a restaurant can get enough violations removed on appeal to keep an A rating, the owners would no longer have to pay a fine.
Some fine amounts will also be reduced, the official said to light applause.
The collaborative event, which organizers described as the beginning of a "continuing conversation," should be a model for the rest of the city, Cornegy said.
"I have a big audacious goal that this will be the center of the universe for righting the ship for economic development, and that we will replicate this throughout the city," Cornegy said.