Multiple hair salons in the region have had fines levied against them by the states reduced after complaints were made to state Sen. Catharine Young's office.
Recently, a number of beauty salons in Fredonia, Dunkirk, Silver Creek and Westfield have been subjected to inspections, which previously were infrequent in the region.
Young said she became aware of the problem after several salon owners called her office for help.
Reports of similar incidents have surfaced statewide, including in the Buffalo and Rochester areas.
Young met with Secretary of State Lorraine Cortes-Vasquez to express her concerns about surprise inspections conducted by the Department of State (DOS) Licensing Division that have caused financial hardship to small businesses.
Secretary Cortes-Vasquez has agreed to change tactics by first informing salon owners about little-publicized laws and regulations, and giving them a grace period to fix any minor violations before they are slapped with a penalty, Sen. Young explained.
"Excessive fines are a huge concern because our hair salons are important to our downtowns and local economy. Times are tough on small businesses, and the state should be more helpful, rather than trying to nail people for fines. These inspections seemed like a money grab by Albany to raise money for the state coffers," Sen. Young said.
"We spoke with salon owners who have been in business up to 40 years and never once had an inspector walk through their doors before now. They were hit with severe fines for rules they didn't even know existed," Sen. Young said.
Jim Lynden, owner of Medusa's Hair Salon, Fredonia, incurred fines exceeding $3,000.
"The state sent its inspectors to canvas the area for the first time in decades, citing all in their path, without the opportunity to comply. The state's responsibility should be to inform, educate and inspect for the purpose of compliance, not just to raise money to balance our government's excessive budget. Most of these small businesses cannot afford to defend themselves in court, much less pay exorbitant fines as they struggle to keep their businesses operating," Mr. Lynden said.
Joe and Sally Muscato, who operate The Studio Hair Shop, Dunkirk, fell victim to an $850 fine, which later was reduced, for not posting a licensing sign on the wall.
"In the 49 years we have been in operation, we always have run a clean and reputable shop, and we have never been subject to these types of inspections and fines before. This inspector had absolutely no interest in the cleanliness or sanitation level of our place. He just waved his badge and demanded on-the-spot information regarding our license that we never even heard of," Mrs. Muscato said.
"We could have attempted to fight this fine in court, but we would have ended up losing more money by doing so. That is the last thing people in our position as small businesses owners need right now," Mrs. Muscato added.
Peggy Kleparek, owner of Facial Expressions Day Spa, Fredonia, was hammered with a $3,000 fine.
"These excessive fines were put on spas and salons with no chance of making corrections. This leads me to believe that the state is out to get as much money as it can get. They are not out to help small businesses get through these bad economic times. Although ignorance of the law is no excuse, a chance to make corrections should be given," Ms. Kleparek said.
Young said a new amnesty period will be offered when less serious violations occur, giving owners an opportunity to comply before fines are issued. The DOS also will work with licensed owners to ensure they are fully informed of laws and regulations pertaining to their operations.
"The state needs to inform and educate, rather than harass and intimidate. This is a new partnership where both sides can cooperate and work with each other so that livelihoods are not put in jeopardy. I salute the Secretary of State for her cooperation," Young said.