As I write this, in mid-July, while putting the finishing touches on our annual Small Business Awards feature, there’s a dustup occurring in Mamaroneck over a small business called Ralph’s Famous Italian Ices, which is being forced by town officials to abruptly close its doors. Ralph’s — which originated in my hometown of Staten Island, where it enjoys cult-like status — has two franchise locations in Westchester: the embattled Mamaroneck spot, which opened in 2016, and a new location, in North Castle, launched just this summer.
The Mamaroneck shutdown is a result of a small-business double-whammy of sorts: Community members complained about safety and noise concerns due to long lines forming outside the treat shop, and a mix-up at the village’s building department meant the location was incorrectly permitted to owner Scott Rosenberg as a retail location instead of as a fast-food business. The news story has people buzzing. Some see it as a classic case of small-town government overreach and ineptitude, while others blame kvetching residents who love to grouse over any change in their town that might have unintended consequences.
Either way, it’s a great example of the many challenges facing small businesses operating in Westchester. We promote ourselves as a business-friendly county, but we also struggle with onerous (often outdated) municipality minutiae that can strangle business growth. As residents, we love the small-town character of our neighborhoods — and, given the obscene tax rates we pay, feel highly entitled to our right to protect them — so we keep a wary eye on any new or expanding enterprises cropping up on our Main Streets. Lastly, as consumers in a county filled with abundant choices, we know we can easily take our money elsewhere if a business fails to live up to our exacting standards.
To succeed, Westchester small businesses must navigate all of these tricky conundrums, while also proceeding with the daily ups and downs of business as usual. It’s obviously no small feat, which is why we relish the opportunity each year to honor a group of stellar, less-than-50-employee enterprises in our Small Business Awards feature (page 50). This year’s crop runs the gamut, from a fish smokehouse to a powerhouse PR firm — with all manner of retail (eyeglasses to nuts to jewelry) and services (lawyers to ad agencies to luxury travel) in-between. We also salute two nonprofit organizations helping to make Westchester a better place to live, for both businesses and residents.
I hope you’ll join us when we fete the winners at our cocktail-party event on September 28 at the Crowne Plaza in White Plains. I’ll check to make sure we haven’t overlooked any permit needs if you all promise not to make too much noise at the party.
Amy R. Partridge