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Brooklyn merchants fight to stay afloat

Merchants: The city has become communist Russia

Brooklyn Daily

Antiques can be costly — but not like this.

City inspectors smacked a Ditmas Park barber with a $650 fine because his beloved 100-year-old cash register doesn’t print out receipts, a petty violation the merchant claims was designed to screw over small businesses and enforced with a zealousness befitting communist Russia.

Leon Kogut, who opened Leon’s Fantasy Cut at Newkirk Plaza more than 20 years ago, said he was going about his business back in February when city Department of Consumer Affairs inspectors came in and started asking him questions about his cash register.

“They asked me how come my cash register doesn’t give receipts and I said this cash register is from 1912!” said Kogut. “Nobody asks for receipts here — it’s a barber shop.”

But Kogut’s claims didn’t sway city inspectors, who also faulted Kogut for charging different prices for men and women’s haircuts.

In order to comply with the arcane law — and keep his register — Kogut had to purchase a pad and a stamp to make receipts when someone asks for one. He’s also changed his price breakdown from one defined by sex to one defined by hair length, he said.

The city eventually lowered Kogut’s fines to $325, but the barber still feels clipped by a money-hungry city.

“It’s not a big multimillion dollar corporation here — my business is cutting hair and giving shaves,” he said. “I’ve never heard that I would need a receipt book — the city should come first and give us a warning.”

But Kogut wasn’t the only merchant inspectors cited on their visit to Newkirk Plaza.

After leaving Kogut, inspectors slapped Kings Court Drugs, which is located right across the plaza, with a $250 fine for charging a 14-cent tax on medicated lip balm. Non-medicated lip balm is taxable — but the medicated tube is supposed to be tax exempt, according to city officials.

Seven other businesses also received citations for a number of violations, including not providing receipts with the company’s name on them and for failing to post minimums for credit card purchases. One shop was cited for selling bars of soap individually instead of the pack they came in.

Yet Department of Consumer Affairs officials were quick to defend their actions — and pointed to the city law that stipulates businesses must include price information on its receipts.

Some legislators were outraged over the Department of Consumer Affairs tactics, which they saw as a targeted sweep of Newkirk Plaza.

“We cannot hold small businesses hostage to the city’s budget,” said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. “It’s time to stop treating small businesses like an ATM and take an honest look at what the fines are really costing the city.”

Kogut, a Russian immigrant, says he’ll move on from the fines — but the ordeal reminded him of the country he left decades ago.

“In the Soviet Union it was almost the same,” he said. “They went around to businesses just like this. But at least here, we can complain!”

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at erosenberg@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at twitter.com/emrosenberg.

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