Mohammed Bado might have been surprised when Lorelei Salas, commissioner of the New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, strolled into his Bay Ridge clothing boutique with members of her staff on Friday morning, but he quickly realized he wasn’t in any trouble.
Salas wasn’t there to conduct a surprise inspection at Bado’s shop, Boutique, at 6909 Fifth Ave. She came to the store to talk to Bado about city regulations for merchants so he can avoid getting hit with summonses from inspectors in the future.
“I thought she was a nice lady,” Bado told the Home Reporter after the commissioner left. Salas and David Raja, an inspector, also presented Bado with an information packet for use as a guide, which he was thumbing through when this reporter re-entered the shop for follow-up questions.
The visit was part of a Business Education Day, a type of community outreach that Salas’ agency, formerly known as the Department of Consumer Affairs, conducts to assist merchants who might be unfamiliar with city regulations that can trip up store owners should an inspector show up on their doorstep.
For example, under New York City rules, a retail shop must display a price list and must prominently display a notice informing customers of the store’s refund policy.
“This is something we do on a regular basis,” Salas told reporters, to “provide education and outreach.” The commissioner added that representatives from the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection conducted 14 Business Education Days in the five boroughs last year.
Salas took a walking tour of Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge, visiting several merchants. Along with members of her staff, she was accompanied by David Raja, an Arabic-speaking senior inspector who provided translation services; and Chris McCreight, chief of staff to Councilmember Justin Brannan. Salas worked closely with Brannan’s office to set up the tour.
Brannan, a Democrat representing Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and parts of Bensonhurst, was unable to take part in the walking tour but he later told the Home Reporter in an email that it’s important for the city to reach out to merchants in an unthreatening manner.
“The rules and regulations that govern our city’s small businesses are many and complicated. It’s hard for anyone to keep track of all of them, especially with business being conducted in hundreds of different languages across this great city. I am happy to see the various agencies reaching out in a spirit of cooperation, and my office is always here to help our local small businesses navigate all these crazy rules and regulations. Frankly, unless a business is making people sick, endangering the public or treating their workers or customers unfairly, I don’t see why the city should be fining them at all. So, it’s important to arm business owners with the tools they need to avoid a fine,” Brannan said.
At one point, the group was joined by two inspectors from the Department of Sanitation, who explained the rules on litter and street signage to store owners.
Salas appeared to enjoy the give-and-take with store owners. “People have a lot of questions,” she said.
The group visited boutiques, bakeries, jewelry stores and other shops that line Fifth Avenue, starting at Bay Ridge Avenue and walking toward 86th Street.
Bay Ridge is home to hundreds of stores, the majority of which are small mom-and-pop shops.
The city’s vast network of rules and regulations can often seem confusing and intimidating to a busy merchant and many store owners have complained that the city unfairly targets them.
The visit by Salas appeared to ease store owners’ nerves.
To contact the Dept. of Consumer and Worker Protection, email firstname.lastname@example.org.