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City has claws out for pet salon

for The Brooklyn Paper
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A Clinton Hill couple’s effort to promote their new pet-grooming business brought out the city’s fangs — and now the fledgling shop is in danger of going under.

Simone and Ricardo Olton freely admit that they illegally posted fliers on city property shortly after their Grand Avenue shop Paws-n-Claws opened last year — though the Oltons said they didn’t know it was against the law to do so.

The couple continued to hang the advertising, not knowing that a Sanitation enforcement agent was secretly tearing them down and holding them as evidence in a future case against the Oltons.

Finally, on Oct. 24, 2007, the flier-hoarding agent entered Paws-n-Claws, which is at the corner of Fulton Street. The Oltons admitted that they had posted the fliers, and promised to take them all down.

But it was too late. Two weeks later, 116 summonses — totaling $8,700 — showed up. In one big mail sack.

Close inspection revealed that the agent had written 62 of the tickets on Sept. 20 and 50 on Oct. 17 — well before he made his one visit to the Oltons’ shop.

And that’s kosher, a Sanitation spokesman said.

“We don’t mail Notices of Violations until violation(s) are written for all NOVs, including those sighted at a later date,” the spokesman, Matthew LiPani, said in an Orwellian e-mail to The Brooklyn Paper.

The Oltons fought the tickets at the city’s Environmental Control Board, but lost when a judge ruled that the city can take as long as it wants to serve tickets.

Their appeal was denied this week, but the point is basically moot, given that the city had already turned over the task of collecting the money to an outside agency. Ricardo Olton said he would attempt another appeal and reach out to local politicians — but in the meantime, the couple is on the brink of going under.

“If I got just one ticket, I would have taken down all the fliers,” Simone Olton said.

Ricardo said his life has become “a nightmare.”

“I’m skipping meals just to pay what should have been a little fine,” he said.

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Reader Feedback

Soured from Red Hook says:
Great way of promoting a healthy business environment. The city obviously has statutes in effect that conflict with a friendly environment for small businesses. Cops and firemen freely park in spots designated "Parking for Trucks Loading and Unloading", forcing legitimate delivery vehicles to double-park and get ticketed. A simple fine and warning, give the opportunity to remove any other signs within a certain amount of time should have sufficed, and a repeat of the offense could receive a larger fine. But agents motivated by a (non-existing) quota system on one hand and the city spending money to encourage small businesses on the other hand are indicative of a city in conflict with itself.
Dec. 2, 2008, 9:41 am
saultee from clinton hill says:
wow what a shame. i cant believe that the city would let the tickets pile up before notifying the business. i mean what stops them from collecting fliers for years and then hitting the business with a half a million dollar fine? i took my cat there to get groomed and they were terrific.
Dec. 2, 2008, 11:48 am
Michael from Bay Ridge says:
ALthough I do think they should pay the fines, the notificaiton system is absurd.

How can the department of sanitation know whether offenses will be commited at a later date, and what is the time limit for recorded observed offences?
Dec. 3, 2008, 8:08 am
Robert Harris from Park Slope says:
This is outrageous! Bloomberg should get involved with this: He should either stop this practice or pay the fine himself after apologizing to the people victimized!
Dec. 4, 2008, 7:37 am
Paws Customer from Clinton Hill says:
Disgraceful. This is a cute little shop on a block that could use positive development. In these hard times the city needs to be encouraging small business in every way it can, not senselessly driving them out.

The sanitation officer, the judge, and Matthew LiPani should be ashamed of themselves.
Dec. 5, 2008, 4:43 pm
Anon from Ft Greene says:
I am writing a letter to the city council representative Letitia James and also sending it Mayor Bloomberg's office.

I would encourage others to do the same.
Dec. 5, 2008, 5:07 pm
riceball44 from Clinton Hill says:
I live across the street from Paws N' Claws. They are a wonderful shop and a great couple who take care of the sidewalk. They take a lot of pride in their shop. What can we do to help, any suggestions? This seems completely out of the blue and incredibly unfair.
Dec. 6, 2008, 10:45 pm
Wiley from Crown Heights says:
Typical bloomberg administration crap - screw the samll business owner but bail out wall street crooks. i'm sick of it.
Dec. 8, 2008, 11:21 pm
Wiley from Crown Heights says:
Typical bloomberg administration crap - screw the samll business owner but bail out wall street crooks.
Dec. 8, 2008, 11:22 pm
Tommy from Sunset Park says:
In reference to the story about the pet grooming store.Does the city go after the politicians when they put up the big signs on the light poles around election time? Well I can tell you that they don't cause they (sanitation enforcement officers)are told to look the other way!!!This is a fact.At the very very most the Oltons should pay for just one violation cause its just THAT!!!! ONE OFFENCE. By the way when Bloomberg was running for Mayor his campaign people know that putting up these signs are ILLEAGLE but they were put up anyway!!!
Dec. 9, 2008, 1:28 am
kev from fort greene says:
This is shameful behavior by a city agency.
The shop should have been notified immediately
of the violation to allow them to rectify the
situation.

Turns my stomach.
Dec. 9, 2008, 3:26 pm
Mimi from Ft. Greene says:
Paws n Claws is one fantastic place run by kind and caring people! A few months ago my daughter and I found five tiny flea-covered and dehydrated kittens in a black trash bag one block from their store in Clinton Hill. Not one vet in the area lifted a finger to help.The nice people at Paws n Claws didn't charge us one dime - they flea dipped all the kittens, gave us a free nursing bottle (the kittens were too young to eat on their own) and even ADOPTED one of the orphans right on the spot! This business exemplifies high standards, and more big business ought to follow their example. I will do whatever I can to help them, so I will write letters and make calls, etc. That sanitation guy ought to be given a desk job or fired. What a jerk.
Dec. 9, 2008, 8:40 pm
Michael from Bay Ridge says:
I still think that the treatment was unfair, but saying what a good shop Paws and Claws is does not excuse them if they had broken the law. If a good person (or buisness) commits a crime it's exactly the same as if it were a bad buisness. We should not excuse them because this is a time to encourage small buisnesses. Our country is based on laws that should be applied fairly and equally to all.

That said I still think that the notification was absurd and that the city needs to make an effort to notify people of the laws, so that they don't unkowingly break them.

The fee is large, but I don't think that the store will close because they have to pay them. It has been an expensive lesson, but the law must be obeyed - if not you get punished - even if you are a pet grooming store that people like.
Dec. 10, 2008, 7:18 am
Isis from Stuyvesant Heights says:
This is sooooooooo wrong! How can the greatest city in this country be so heartless? The City should be ashamed that this sanitation officer got away with abusing the law the way he did. It's small business owners like Ricky and Simone Olton who make this city great. What did they ever do to him to deserve him hording those tickets like that??? This is a prime example that you cannot even trust the sanitation police. Wow... I take my babies to them on a regular basis. They have treated my treasures with the love and care that they give all of their customers.

I do not feel like they committed crime. With all the purse snatching, drug selling, car stealing, etc theives in this city, I hardly think this fits into a crime category. They freely give to the community. Why would they need to steal from the City? This is ridiculous! I am outraged! There are child molesting scum being freed everyday. We need to monitor them, not a young couple building up their community!

Ricky and Simone, keep your head up! What goes around comes around! God has something much bigger and better in store for this wonderful couple!
Dec. 15, 2008, 8:18 pm

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