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Bill would fine small business owners who keep doors open while air conditioning is on

astoriastoreJuly 29, 2015 By Jackie Strawbridge

The City’s smallest stores would be required to keep their doors shut while running an air conditioner if a local councilman’s bill becomes law.

Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) introduced a bill last week that would prohibit stores smaller than 4,000 square feet from keeping their doors open while air conditioning is running. Businesses that do not comply would risk a $250 fine.

This prohibition already exists for stores larger than 4,000 square feet and for chains with five or more locations in the City.

For Constantinides, who was recently appointed chair of the City Council environmental protection committee, the goal of this bill is to cut down on energy waste.

The Councilman was quick to point out that his bill does not apply to restaurants with outdoor cafes.

“The big takeaway is we are trying to reduce emissions. Everyone is going to have to do their part; everyone in the City is going to have to change their behavior in some way,” Constantinides said. “This [new door policy] is another tool in our tool box.”

Stores that keep their doors open with air conditioning running can expect to lose $1,000 per summer on wasted electricity, according to a team at Con Edison that ran this calculation for the Sunnyside Post.

Ivie Joy, owner of Ivie Joy Floral Arts on 35th Street, said she does not object to the bill.

“It’s really up to the business owner to make a presence outside, anyway. Aesthetically, it has to be attractive. So if you have that presence, people don’t really care if the door is closed or not.”

A manager at Brown’s Army and Navy on Broadway, who asked to be identified as Rico, said he didn’t think the closed-door rule would make a difference on either the environment or his bottom line.

“I don’t see that big of a deal. It’s only two months out of the year,” Rico said.

Others felt that, if passed, the law would create a hardship for small business owners.

“Customers are drawn to an open location, and small businesses must use every tactic available to them to attract business in slow summer months,” Patricia Dorfman, director of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, told the Jackson Heights Post after speaking with a handful of local businesses on the issue.

While Dorfman applauded the Councilman’s efforts to conserve energy, she called the bill “another example of over regulating small businesses.”

“Our businesses provide cool air for the comfort of their customers and for their staff and they pay a lot for the choice. But the choice should be up to them,” she said.

In response, the Councilman said, “I think it’s really important that a building does not rely as part and parcel of their business model to have the door open… Having the doors open is only wasteful.”

The bill now awaits a hearing in the environmental protection committee.

Meanwhile, compliance remains a problem for larger stores already covered by the closed-door rule.

This month, the Department of Consumer Affairs announced a campaign called “Shut the Front Door!” to educate business owners about the impact of keeping their doors open and about their responsibilities under the current law.

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