By Chris Mellides
Housed in a building that was originally a vaudeville theater built in the early 1900s, Uniquely Natalie is a St. James-based consignment store catering to shoppers looking for affordable home and office furnishing.
Its owner, Natalie Weinstein, launched this space last year as a designer-driven shop adjoining the headquarters of Natalie Weinstein Design Associates — a full-service interior design firm.
Aside from contending with the challenges of owning her own business, Weinstein was recently served with some bad news from the county.
In a letter dated Oct. 27, Weinstein and several other small business owners with storefronts operating in Suffolk County were introduced to county code Chapter 563-106-A, which among other things states it is unlawful for any person to engage in the selling of furniture or carpets without obtaining a license.
“When I received the letter my first inclination was to say, since I’m a good law-abiding citizen, we’ve got to pay this, [but] how are we going to do this now?” said Weinstein. “This is my first retail operation … I felt it would be helpful to people who really couldn’t go to the big box stores or pay for expensive furniture and still get quality things.”
The code makes no distinction between “new, used or antique furniture,” and there are no exemptions that exist for “antique furniture dealers, churches or other nonprofit organizations.”
This means that Weinstein and others specializing in the sale of home furnishings in Suffolk County are required to apply for licensing at the initial cost of $200 with $400 needed to be paid every two years for relicensing.
Frustrated and looking for outside assistance, Weinstein reached out to Legislator Rob Trotta, who admitted his outrage over the county mandate.
“This is strictly an attack on small business,” said Trotta (R-Fort Salonga). “Over 200 letters were sent out right before the Christmas season. Downtowns are struggling, small businesses are struggling and this [code] said that you need to get a license.”
Trotta said the foundation of this law had shifted from its original intent and that this mandate was just “another attempt to hurt small business and to raise revenue.”
Aligning himself with Trotta is former Commissioner of Consumer Affairs Charlie Gardner. Gardner believes that this mandate aimed at small-business owners subverts the original intent of its legislation, which was to safeguard consumers from unlawful business practices.
“This legislation was aimed at regulating those businesses that would routinely go out of business, would take consumers’ deposits for money, fail to deliver furniture, deliver damaged furniture, and many times consumers had no recourse,” said Gardner. “Since the inception of this legislation the number of complaints dramatically decreased, but it was certainly not aimed at antique stores, antique dealers [or] roadside vendors.”
Gardner, who is now chair of the Government Relations Committee for the Kings Park Chamber of Commerce, said if any of his town members were burdened with the mandate, he would suggest they appear before the Legislature to vent and demand that the legislation revert to its original intent.
In an attempt to resolve this issue, Trotta asked legislative counsel to draft legislation that would clarify the definition of “antique dealer” and “seller” and save Weinstein and others from additional hardship.
“I believe that the original intent of the law was to protect consumers when primarily furniture and carpet retailers failed to deliver the merchandise promised,” said Trotta. “Now it appears that the county is going after the small-business person who sells a few pieces of furniture and [the consumer] takes the merchandise with him or her.”