Consumer Affairs Inspector David Raja saved businesses some thousands of dollars in potential fines on Thursday during a door-to-door tour in Gramercy Park meant to educate small business owners about labor and licensing laws in the workplace.

Joined by Commissioner Lorelai Salas, Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, DCWP employees, and representatives from both the Department of Sanitation and Small Business Services, the group walked down First Avenue to visit at least 60 small businesses before the day was out. From obtaining an industrial laundry license to the correct disposal of expired medication, most  store and restaurant owners they visited made a point to write down nearly every word that Raja spoke when he toured their space.

“We have invested significant resources in the last couple of years in making sure that we’re providing enough education to small businesses, especially understanding that most of our business are owned by immigrant entrepreneurs,” said Salas, “this is one way in which we do that.

A Peruvian immigrant herself, Salas said the agency was working to do between 14 and 16 tours a year. The agency, according to Representative Tanjila Rahman, splits trips as evenly as possible by ensuring each borough is allowed two trips, each focused on a different neighborhood dominated by small business owners.

Increasing the tours was something Salas said was making the relationship between the community and the agency more transparent. “Elected officials love it because they’re able to tell us this is an area where we believe you need to pay more attention.’ People feel like they can come and tell us… That conversation is happening.”

Raja said, “Like most New Yorkers, I like to shop and I don’t want to be cheated. It was very interesting to learn the rules and regulations. The best agency to protect consumers is this one.”

“The large chain stores that are opening  are taking the resources away from small businesses,” Epstein said. ” It’s very important that we make it easier for them, not harder for them. Getting a ticket makes it hard for them.” He added that rising rents were also a problem.

“They’ve raised the rent at least two times in the four years that I’ve been here,” said Asif Asif Shikder, manager of Tal Bagels.

“Everyone is shutting down their businesses. The city has too much big business inside it,” said a grocery store owner who only gave his name as Chun.

Photo by Danielle Kogan