A Clinton Hill pet store that got hit with 116 city summonses in one day has become the poster child for the excesses of an anti–small-business mayor.
Entrepreneurs, residents and elected officials were aghast after reading last week’s Brooklyn Paper front-page story on Simone and Ricardo Olton, owners of Paws and Claws on Fulton Street, who received $8,700 in fines on one day for fliers that they had illegally posted on city property.
The 116 tickets came on one day because city Sanitation enforcement officers are allowed to hoard illegal fliers for as long as they want — and then dump them on business owners who may not even realize that they had been breaking the law.
“More than $8,000 [in fines] will put him out of business, and we do not want that,” said Councilwoman Letitia James (D–Clinton Hill), who wants the city to reduce the penalties on the Oltons.
All week long, outraged readers posted comments on BrooklynPaper.com, and interviews with small businesspeople around the borough revealed a strong overtone of resentment at how the city enforces regulations that affect commerce.
“The city obviously has statutes in effect that conflict with a friendly environment for small businesses,” posted “Soured in Red Hook.”
Shopkeepers complain that the Department of Sanitation uses a fine-toothed comb during inspections. The agency raised $31.9 million through fines in 2006, up from $18.8 million in 2003, city records show.
“I’ve been given a $100 ticket for having one cigarette butt on my sidewalk,” said the owner of a picture-framing company who did not want to be identified. “It’s really annoying, but it’s the price of living in the city.”
In spite of the criticism, the Department of Sanitation says its employees are just upholding existing rules to keep the city clean. It is illegal to post fliers lampposts, “No Parking” signs, fire hydrants, garbage cans and other city property.
“The Department enforces the law as it is written, and the law is clear that each illegal posting is a separate violation,” said department spokesman Matthew LiPani.
Indeed, some business owners said that the Oltons have no one to blame but themselves for not knowing the law.
“This is something you don’t want to mess around with,” said Wayne Herman, co-owner of the recently opened Minuteman Press on Atlantic Avenue.
— with Zeke Faux and Evan Gardner