According to several businesses who requested anonymity to speak freely about the visits without retaliation, the inspections have come from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), Department of Buildings (DOB) and Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP).
On a few occasions, small businesses have even received summonses for violations like not placing tape six feet apart on the floor or having proper temperature readings for customers.
One small business owner on Eliot Avenue said he received a violation from DCWP for not having the tape on the floor, despite the business not having a cash register or other items that would create lines inside the building. He said they did not receive the ticket yet, so he doesn’t know how much it will cost him.
“A $100 ticket is enough for me to put stickers on the floor,” he said. “I don’t need a $1,000 ticket, especially during the pandemic, when we’re struggling just to catch up for lost time.”
The business owner said he’s also frustrated that the inspectors show up unannounced and interrupt the business, which is already short-staffed due to the pandemic.
After being visited by health and buildings inspectors, whom he called “polite and helpful,” the business owner said he was told to buy a thermometer, set up a log of visitors and other COVID-19 protocols. But he said they did not inform him that he needed the tape to ensure social distancing.
“Any penalty at this point is really a burden,” he said. “It shouldn’t be about penalties, it should be more about helping us comply. It should be more like a community service, where they’re coming in to help the business owners, rather than putting us through a test.”
Another nearby small business owner said inspectors visited her shop three or four times in one week. They first came on a Thursday and told her to “get everything together” in a week, but showed up the following Tuesday, she said.
That business also received a summons from DCWP inspectors for their safety plan and not having propert reading of the temperature, the business owner said. Like the first business owner, she has also not received her ticket, leaving her wondering how much she will have to fork over.
“It’s it’s $100, it’s doable,” she said. “If it’s thousands, it’s not.”
But not all small businesses in the area were peeved by the daily COVID-19 inspections, which included visits on the weekends. An employee for a small business on Eliot Avenue said the inspectors were just coming in to check that they followed the rules.
“First they come in twice to tell you what has to be done. They warn you and give you all the information or the tools to fix the problem,” he said. “If you don’t fix it, they say we’re going to cite you. They give you a chance to fix it.”
The employee said, in his opinion, the inspectors were not harassing business owners, bur rather doing their job to prevent the spread of the virus.
“If someone got a ticket, they got a ticket for a reason. They don’t just walk around giving tickets for no reason,” he said. “It’s a simple rule, either you follow it or you don’t. You don’t follow it, you’re going to have a problem.”
Another business owner said the inspectors came in and told him what he needed to have done.
“As long as you got everything they ask,” he said, “you’re OK.”
The local business owner said he spoke to one of the inspectors, who informed him that the reason why inspectors stepped up their visits was because Middle Village was in the yellow zone.
“They don’t want this to become a red zone,” he said.
Other business owners said they also felt the visits were made because the neighborhood was located in the yellow zone.
“If I have to guess, that’s probably correlated,” said the first business owner, who received the DWCP summons.