America’s largest city offers accessible online resources to get new businesses off the ground, and even provides a “business wizard” to help applicants navigate the requirements. But the number of steps and forms and amounts of fees—especially in such an expensive city—can deter entrepreneurs.
In New York, the time and money required to complete the regulatory process for entrepreneurs makes it difficult for would-be small business owners to start the ventures of their dreams.
New York’s entrepreneurs face steep fees before they can get down to business. For example, the cost of opening a restaurant starts at $2,882 and opening a bookstore costs $3,385, which is mostly driven by the $2,960 fee for the zoning board application to receive a conditional use permit.
New York scores four out of five on the one-stop shop rubric. Most information and applications are available online and easily accessible. New York also provides a business wizard that can provide applicants with the requirements they must fulfill to get their business started. However, some online resources suffer from having too many webpages explaining parts of the same process, making it difficult to piece together the requirements an entrepreneur may need to complete.
It takes 56 steps to start a barbershop in New York, 12 of which must be completed in person. Making so many visits to various city agencies significantly complicates the start-up process.
Starting a Business in New York City: By the Numbers
Total CostWe calculated this metric by totaling the fees for all the licenses, permits, and registrations each business needs to get started.
Number of FeesWe calculated this metric by counting how many fees governments impose on each business for completing registrations and paperwork.
Agencies InvolvedWe calculated this metric by totaling the number of agencies entrepreneurs must work with in order to get up and running—whether in the form of submitting paperwork to an agency’s staff, or in terms of abiding by regulations that an agency has promulgated.
In-Person ActivitiesWe calculated this metric by counting the number of compliance activities each entrepreneur needs to complete in person, rather than online or by mail.
Number of FormsWe calculated this metric by counting the various forms and applications each business needs to submit
Number of StepsWe calculated this metric by totaling the discrete tasks an entrepreneur must complete to start each of the business types.
One-Stop Shop Score
New York City Fast Facts
Notable Barriers and Roadblocks
New York City imposes fees for late business license payments. For each month the business license payment is late, a fee of 4.5% of the business license fee is assessed.
Meanwhile, New York places serious roadblocks in front of food truck operators and other mobile food vendors. In the past, a hard cap of 5,100 permits for mobile food vending units has made it extremely difficult to start a vending business. While legislation was passed by the city council in 2021 to raise this cap by 400 permits per year starting in 2022, the annual increase is small, slow, and not nearly enough to absorb the demand for vending permits. Permits can sell on the secondhand market for tens of thousands of dollars. Only those with access to significant capital can realistically acquire these permits, meaning entrepreneurs can be saddled with incredibly expensive leases for their vending permits.
Accommodations for New or Small Businesses
No notable accommodations.
Officials and policymakers have the opportunity to make it cheaper, faster, and simpler to start a business in New York City. City officials should:
new york city, new york
Lucio González is an immigrant who years ago escaped violence in Mexico to pursue the American dream and now lives and works in the Bronx. He learned how to work in a kitchen as a teenager, cooking tacos to support his family after the death of his father. When the pandemic hit in 2020 and Lucio lost his job in a New York restaurant, it made sense that he would return to the same trade: selling authentic tacos on neighborhood streets to provide for his family. It was a promising opportunity that came to a screeching halt one day when city officials showed up to shut him down. They assessed him three tickets—with fines totaling $2,050—for vending without the proper documentation. They gave him vague verbal instructions about how to resolve the tickets, and handed him papers, written solely in English, with threatening language and unclear next steps. Spanish is Lucio’s primary language, and he at times struggles to understand and express himself in English; as a result, he was left feeling confused as to how to proceed, now saddled with thousands of dollars in debt he could not afford to pay. Unfortunately, the problems Lucio experienced with the city are not unique: Cities like New York increasingly rely on fines and fees to generate revenue, punishing hard-working entrepreneurs like Lucio for making honest mistakes in a complex regulatory environment where rules and procedures are often poorly explained. If city officials did a better job of working with Lucio to help him get the licenses and permits he needs, he would be able to earn a living without fear of punitive enforcement. As Lucio himself explains, “No quiero deberle nada a nadie. Solo quiero luchar cada día, y hacer lo mejor posible para traer un plato de comida a la casa.” . . . “I don’t want to be in debt. I just want to work as hard as possible every day to put food on the table for my family.”