Red tape

hudson river coffee house thumbnailThis weekend's Advocate column in the TU highlighted the frustrations small businesses encounter dealing with Albany city codes and regulations by featuring the struggles of Hudson River Coffee House owner Anton Pasquill. While talking with small business owners over the last few years, we've heard from many that it's not so much the city is actively making things difficult -- but it's not making them easy, either. We've thought that having an easy-to-find website that very clearly spells out the codes and permitting steps necessary to open a business, with info on how to follow those steps, could be a big help. (By the way: we just looked up AlbanyOpenForBusiness.org -- it's available.) Earlier: Hudson River Coffee House

Comments

I know very little about opening a business, but this confirms for me that there’s something rotten about how Albany treats small business owners. Every morning for what was probably a month I walked past the owner of a reputable local restaurant chain waiting for code inspectors to come and clear a new location for his restaurant. Every time I stopped to ask how things were going, he told me about some new requirement, inspectors that simply did not show up, or other issues. I was appalled by how much rubbish he had to endure. I’m glad that the Advocate has picked up the issue. (I'm leaving out the name of the restaurant for fear of retaliation against the business. What a sad state of affairs.)

@AOA. We opened our business in the City of Albany 1 1/2 years ago and felt the same frustration with the building department. My biggest complaint was their total lack of customers service in helping a small business owner. If I treated my customers that way, we would be out of business. I finally had to call the mayor's office to get through the process. Not a fun ride. I felt Anton's pain.

@Paul: It's crazy that you had to go to that length to move along the process. There's so much talk from politicians about being small business-friendly, yet the follow through necessary to actually make that happen seems to be lacking.

I've found that the best way to deal with the city is to do your best to exclude them from the process. What ever you do, don't ask them a question! If you do, the answer will be no, or will be complicated and involve some sort of fee. Just go ahead and do it.

The secret is to make obvious code violations. The inspector is there to find violations, not to pass you. If you do something like temporarily break the toilet 5 minutes before the inspector shows up you'll get cited for that, a problem that is easily solved. If you don't have an obvious violation for them to cite, they will find an obscure one, such as wanted in a vent over the coffee pot.

I wrote up a guide just like this for new businesses that can be found on the Lark Street BID's website. Check it out!

Reading about the hoops Anton had to jump through to open Hudson River Coffee House is very troubling - I'm so glad that he persevered because his business is an asset to our neighborhood, and I hope the beginning of more small businesses opening up in the area - I often dream of the day when the many empty storefronts in the prime location of Madison between Quail and Ontario are buzzing as they should be.

My comment is "ABSOLUTELY" on AOA's statement, "We've thought that having an easy-to-find website that very clearly spells out the codes and permitting steps necessary to open a business, with info on how to follow those steps, could be a big help."

The city of Albany MUST invest in technology that helps residents, business owners and city departments get needed information and communicate more effectively so that the city is transparent and accountable.

As the capital of our state in a region that is the epicenter of significant tech investment, the city's poor technological resources (except for the police department - that department uses technology effectively) is an embarrassment.

As for the Building and Codes department, I think the administration was proactive with making changes and that things are improving since Chief City Auditor, Leif Engstrom's audit of the codes process.

I'll second @Leah's comments. The city did hire some new code inspectors to ease the burden on the department and increase "customer satisfaction" if you will by reducing wait times, etc. City Treasurer Kathy Sheehan made a redesigned city website the focal point of a talk she gave at last year's CANA (Council of Albany Neighborhood Associations) Neighborhoods Work conference.

Ironically, CANA needs a new website, too...

Anyway an e-commerce website would really help the city and it's residents. Apparently there's a bunch of red-tape preventing this... so I gotta ask, who is going to cut it?!

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