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Emanuel vows ordinance to trim business licenses

The Chicago mayor said Tuesday he’ll propose trimming the number of licenses the city requires from 117 to 49. (WBEZ/Chip Mitchell)

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is promising an ordinance that would trim the types of business licenses the city requires by 60 percent. He said the measure, planned for City Council introduction on Wednesday, would cut the number from 117 to 49 and make it easier for companies to operate in the city.

“I believe in oversight and regulation but I also believe in small businesses,” Emanuel said at a news conference Tuesday in the city’s Logan Square neighborhood. “They are the lifeblood of economic activity and job creation in our neighborhoods and our cities. I want all these business owners focused on their customer, not City Hall.”

A statement from the mayor’s office said the ordinance would help a range of businesses. The statement said pet store owners until now have needed one license to sell goldfish and another to sell fishbowls or fish food. It said some automobile repair shops have needed as many as four licenses to work on cars, store chemicals, hold tires and sell windshield wipers.

Rosemary Krimbel, commissioner of the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, said restaurants also stood to gain. “Right now they need a retail food establishment license to operate,” she said. “But often, if they’re selling a cookbook or maybe some hot sauce or maybe just T-shirts, they also need a limited business license. They’ll no longer need that second license. That license costs $250.”

Emanuel said the reforms would mean fewer fines on business owners. Their annual savings would top $2 million, he added. That could mean less city revenue. Emanuel insisted the ordinance would spur economic growth that would make up the difference.

The ordinance would allow city inspectors to spend less time citing companies for having the wrong paperwork and more time cracking down on illegal business operations, the mayor’s office said. The proposal also includes new tools for inspectors to focus on irresponsible companies, such as those that sell tobacco to minors or defraud consumers, the mayor’s office added.

The legislation would also give the city more flexibility to provide novel sorts of businesses with a temporary permit allowing them to open shop while the city figured out how to license them. Emanuel held the news conference at one of those businesses, Logan Square Kitchen, a shared cooking facility at 2333 N. Milwaukee Ave. The owner has nearly drowned in Chicago red tape.

The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce immediately hailed the plan, praising the promised flexibility for startup companies. “One of the biggest challenges for businesses in Chicago is to obtain all the necessary licenses to be able to open their doors,” said Jerry Roper, the chamber’s chief, in a statement.

The mayor’s office declined to release a draft of the legislation on Tuesday afternoon and said officials have yet to finalize it.

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