A break for small businesses: Erie Co. legislature seeks to eliminate fees to be at fairs, festivals

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB-TV) – With fairs and festivals coming back, Erie County lawmakers are working on a resolution to give small business owners a break.

A resolution sent to committee Thursday would eliminate any and county fees associated with small businesses applying to have booths at fairs and festivals.

“For something like this, it’s really trying to get them back out into the public and make people aware of the fact that restaurants are open,” said Don Lorentz, the executive director of the Orchard Park Chamber of Commerce. “That’s why I was hoping that this would be something we could do for them.”

Lorentz is behind the idea to eliminate the fees that small business owners have to pay when they get these temporary food permits.

He saw it done in Monroe County, and raised it with the Erie County legislature ahead of the Taste of Orchard Park.

They didn’t pass it in a session Thursday, but lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say they’re working to get it done, as festivals make their comebacks and bustling downtowns are alive again.

“There are a number of events and temporary food establishments that would like to get up and running. Waiving the fees, when Erie County is quite literally flush with more cash than we’ve ever had from the American Rescue Plan, waiving small fees for small businesses at a time when small businesses are hurting, not the government, is something we should be doing,” Minority leader Joe Lorigo said.

“With all the lost revenue last year, businesses that participate in events like these say even some savings can make it worth their while.”

“That would be great for us,” said Brendan Biggane, co-owner of Byrd House in Orchard Park. “We missed out on the festival last year. We missed out on November and December last year, our two most profitable months. Eliminating the fees would be a nice gesture for the county to throw at some of the businesses out here that have been taking it on the chin.”

Biggane acknowledges margins are thin at festivals, but he says the exposure is why restaurants do it.

“I can’t tell you how many times I had people come and say, ‘I never knew you served x, but I had it at the Taste of Orchard Park, and I couldn’t believe how great it was, and we came back to have dinner at your restaurant.’”

And if passed, this would apply to festivals county-wide.

“It’s one of those things where some of the smaller restaurants are saying they don’t really have that large of a profit margin. They’re not serving dinner, they’re not doing the drinks and everything else they would do in a restaurant. They would have to do a lot of volume just to make up the $100-$150,” said Lorentz, who believes a little break can go a long way.

This would mean a loss of revenue for the county, but the legislators seem to agree that this is the time to do it. Legislator John Gilmour said he’s hoping to go farther with it, reducing fees to rent shelters at county parks.

If passed, this would apply for the rest of 2021.

Erica Brecher is an anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2018. See more of her work here.

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