New York City's comptroller Scott Stringer recently unveiled a plan to help the city’s small businesses deal with the impact of COVID-19. The comptroller’s recommendations include a series of tax credits for retailers, restaurants, entrepreneurs, and other hard-hit small businesses.

NYC Businesses Significantly Impacted by COVID-19

"Every small business in New York City that hasn't yet closed is fighting for survival," Stringer said. "The city must deliver much-needed relief to help businesses reopen, stay open, and revive high-vacancy corridors that have been devastated by the pandemic."

As highlighted in the report, entitled “Save Main Street: A Crash Program to Help Save NYC Small Businesses,” New York City small businesses have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. At least 2,800 small businesses have closed permanently between March 1 and July 10, including 1,289 restaurants and 844 retail establishments. For those small businesses remaining, revenues have dropped 26.4 percent since early January.

Proposed Initiatives to Help NYC Small Businesses and Entrepreneurs

The comptroller’s action plan to help NYC businesses includes several tax-related proposals. It also includes recommendations for supporting existing small businesses as well as fostering new business and entrepreneurship. Below are some highlights:

Recommendations for Supporting Small Businesses

  • Create the NYC Door-to-Door Outreach Team.
    The plan calls for the City’s Small Business Services, in collaboration with BIDs [Business Improvement District] and other business associations, to create the NYC Door-to-Door Outreach Team. The team would “knock on the door of every Main Street business, reach out to proprietors, and help them prepare paperwork” for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Neighborhoods that received the fewest PPP loans would be targeted and prioritized.
  • Provide tax credits for independent businesses to help cover re-opening costs.
    The plan recommends that the City create refundable business income tax credits for small, independent, and locally-owned businesses with annual revenue below $5 million. The tax credits will allow them to recoup dollars spent on reconfiguring stores, installing safety equipment, outdoor seating, and any other expenses related to re-opening safely.
  • Create a NYC Tech Corp to help small businesses adopt digital tools and develop an online presence.
    The comptroller proposed that the Small Business Services should pilot a NYC Tech Corp to help Main Street businesses develop a web presence, expand online sales, and implement digital payroll, sales, and inventory tools. Rather than offering time-consuming classes and tutorials, the Tech Corp would work directly with business owners to design websites, to help purchase business software, and to set-up these tools.
  • Allow businesses a “cure period” to address and fix violations, rather than fining them immediately.
    Under the plan, any business violation that does not pose an immediate hazard to the public would be granted a 30-Day “cure period” to address and rectify the issue.
  • Continue to relax liquor regulations and eliminate the City tax on liquor licenses.
    The plan recommends that the State expedite the issuance of new liquor licenses, continue to ease regulations on alcohol pick-up and delivery, and repeal the recent executive orders that a) require food to be purchased along with alcohol and b) place the onus on businesses to enforce open container laws. To help in these efforts, the City should ease regulations on drinking in designated outdoor areas and eliminate its 25% tax on liquor licenses.
  • Extend the moratorium on commercial evictions and provide legal assistance to businesses involved in legal disputes.
    The comptroller recommends that the State extend its moratorium on commercial evictions, which expires on August 20, 2020, and extend it until the city is fully reopened. He also recommends that the SBS Commercial Lease Assistance program be relaunched to provide legal representation to small businesses in commercial lease disputes and negotiations. The plan further states that the City should look to Detroit’s “Neighborhood Strategic Fund”—a partnership between government and major philanthropic organizations—which is currently providing three-months of rent support for businesses in 10 high-priority commercial corridors in the Motor City.

Recommendations for Supporting New Business and Entrepreneurship

  • Provide tax incentives for entrepreneurs in high-vacancy retail corridors.
    The comptroller recommends that the City provide tax credits for aspiring entrepreneurs in retail corridors with persistently high vacancy rates. The plan calls for Small Business Services, working with the Department of Finance, to identify and map retail corridors and monitor vacancy rates. Business owners locating in corridors with vacancy rates above a certain threshold could receive a credit against either the Commercial Rent Tax (in that area of Manhattan to which it applies) or the real property tax (requiring the landlord to calculate that share of rent attributable to retail space when the space is leased).
  • Create a “re-entrepreneurship” program connecting retiring business owners to aspiring entrepreneurs.
    With many older business owners preferring to close their business rather than muddle through the challenging and uncertain months ahead, the City should launch a Re-Entrepreneurship program that connects existing business owners to aspiring entrepreneurs. In an example cited by the comptroller, financial advisors rigorously evaluate both the fiscal health of the companies and the qualifications of the “re-entrepreneurs” before they are granted access to the online marketplace. When a match is made, these advisors help manage the transfer and provide business training for new owners.
  • Help solo entrepreneurs scale up.
    The plan advocates for the City partnering with Freelancers Union and other service providers to improve outreach to these solo entrepreneurs and to develop a Business Acceleration Unit dedicated to helping them expand. It also calls for the City to work with micro-lenders and credit unions to guarantee small loans for sole proprietors looking to make their first hire—as well as for purchasing equipment and obtaining affordable workspace.
  • Help immigrant entrepreneurs scale up, extend into new markets, and open second businesses.
    The comptroller suggests that Small Business Services should help immigrant entrepreneurs expand into new markets and open new stores by offering marketing, promotion, and translation services. He also recommends that the City pilot a new program to help proven, successful entrepreneurs open second businesses throughout the city, expediting permitting and helping with the costs of modifying these new spaces.
  • The City should adopt a Minority Business Accelerator program. Citing a program launched in Cincinnati, Ohio as a model, the plan proposes that Small Business Services and the borough chambers of commerce should create their own Minority Business Accelerator. “Pairing local MWBEs [Minority/Women-owned Business Enterprises] with locally headquartered corporations, the City can help diversify private sector supply chains and help minority-owned businesses grow,” the plan states.
  • Review and reform occupational license requirements.
    The plan notes that the State of Florida passed a sweeping bill to “loosen or abolish occupational licensing regulations across more than 30 professions, cutting red tape for potentially thousands of workers in the state.” To better support aspiring entrepreneurs, the comptroller recommends that New York follow suit.

Key Takeaway for New York City Businesses

COVID-19 continues to create challenges for New York City businesses, and we expect that the City will continue to roll out programs to provide assistance. The comptroller’s plan is a preview of what some of those might look like; however, the recommendations would all require action by local and often state officials.

If you have questions, please contact us

If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the matter further, please contact me, Michael Sheppeard, or the Scarinci Hollenbeck attorney with whom you work, at 201-896-4100.