The youngest of seven children born to working-class parents in Queens, New York, Vera Moore vowed with her first job out of high school as a stenographer that she would make a difference for her family.
“The next floor you scrub,” she told her mom, who washed floors on her hands and knees as a domestic worker, “will be your own.”
Five years later, she bought her parents a house – and swept them along in her own success as an actress who had a 10-year run as Nurse Linda on the soap opera Another World.
“We didn’t have the money, but we had the moral support,” Moore, 70, tells PEOPLE, recalling the childhood inspiration of hearing her mother read herThe Little Engine That Could. “Even though I was the youngest, I always was the one who wanted to do it, wanted to go for it. I always had that drive in me.”
Fame carried her to another career. As a singer and theater actress who moved into television, she was unhappy with the makeup then available to a performer of color.
“So I concocted my own,” she says. “But then, the lightbulb: You’re not the only one suffering from this. This is not just your personal dilemma, there is a dilemma. There is a need.”
In 1979 that realization launched Vera Moore Cosmetics, initially funded when she and her husband, Billy Helms, mortgaged their home and later opened a mall shop. Now, her line is marketed in 56 Duane Reade stores and Walgreens specialty-makeup “LOOK boutiques” across the country, plus Puerto Rico and China.
Emphasizing both makeup and skin care, the business grew from its initial target of black women – “because that’s where the void was” – to women of all cultures.
She also persevered while focusing on family illnesses and then the loss of her parents, her sister and four of her five brothers.
“It’s been rough,” she says, “but I think my priorities were where they were supposed to be.”
“I’ve had so many challenges,” she says. “How did I survive them, and come up smiling? I have to always go to a higher power, a higher being. I thank God every day.”
• Reporting by JACKIE FIELDS
New York Women’s Chamber of Commerce and the City Officials gathered together and combined all the resources in order to protect a number of businesses located on Broadway and 161 – 162 streets. All the businesses are of Hispanic background and they provide services for the Spanish speaking neighborhood locals. One of the businesses listed for eviction is the Dominican food restaurant – Punta Cana, that holds steady 4 star review status on a popular social media platform Yelp. Customers write in their reviews that food from that venue makes them feel like back home in Santa Domingo; others who, after stopping by once became regulars can’t stop talking about the variety of flavors this place has to offer. But soon it will be all gone – the businesses will lose their lease and landlords will rent out or sell the newly emptied space to the new high-profile clientele and we will have another bank, chain store or a fast food franchisee around the block. We couldn’t put up with this injustice anymore and in collaboration with City Councils Mark Levine (District 7), Ydanis Rodriguez (District 10), Robert Conergy (District 36) and many others we organized the Press Conference to be the Voice of the neighborhood.
Please see the Press releases and Videos from that day.
The Village Voice
A MANHATTAN LANDLORD IS EVICTING AN ENTIRE BLOCK OF LATINO BUSINESS OWNERS
BY SOLANGE UWIMANAFRIDAY, JUNE 19, 2015
Punta Cana looks like your childhood friend’s grandmother’s kitchen circa 1995. The 600-square-foot Dominican restaurant at 3880 Broadway in Washington Heights has little in the way of décor. There’s a blue-green — and some places bleach-stained — counter that runs the entire length of the room. There are just two tables, each with two chairs, that sit in a corner, up against an imitation-wood back wall.
This is the kind of neighborhood joint in which the menu is entirely in Spanish (with no pictures), most patrons order in Spanish (the mofongo is popular), and the three women behind the counter greet you in Spanish (“¡Mi amor!”). It doesn’t have a website. It has stood for at least 40 years at the corner of Broadway and West 162nd, but over the last several months Angel Santos, who has owned the restaurant with his family since 1997, has been fighting to keep it for another 40.
Punta Cana will most likely close its door in the next few weeks, when a judge is expected to order the restaurant’s eviction.
“There’s not much we can do,” Santos’s daughter Jacelyn Santos tells the Voice. “Honestly, I would have preferred that he let it go earlier, but I understand this was more of an emotional decision that he made.”
In 2012, real estate investors Israel Weinberger and Steven Neuman of Coltown Properties bought the building in Washington Heights as part of a $31 million real estate deal that included five rental buildings in the area. The buildings housed 217 rental units and 12 small businesses, of which Punta Cana was one. The acquisition by Coltown was part of a new trend of investors looking uptown for real estate holdings in a hot new market in the Upper Manhattan neighborhoods of Hamilton and Washington Heights.
‘We sit there through the shootings. We were there early. And now that it’s changed, it’s safer, we gotta go. What can we do?’
When the building sold, says Quenia Abreu, the president and CEO of the New York Women’s Chamber of Commerce, the new owners declined to renew the commercial rental leases at 3880 Broadway. When a lease is not renewed, whether for a residential or commercial tenant, landlords can continue renting to the existing tenant under an implied month-to-month agreement until the tenant moves out or a new lease is negotiated. That’s where the trouble usually starts for businesses that fail to force landlords to issue a new lease.
“Buildings are being sold in the community, new landlords are coming in with no regard to the community, to the businesses, even the residents that have been there a long time,” Abreu tells the Voice. “You can open a business and invest your life’s savings, $100,000, $200,000. And when the lease expires, the landlord can say, ‘I don’t want you anymore, goodbye,’ and give you 30 days.”
Representatives from Coltown Properties did not return repeated messages left by the Voice.
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In March, seven businesses at 3800 Broadway, including Punta Cana, were given eviction notices and told to vacate by the end of April. The businesses’ owners were each given the option of paying higher rent — for the restaurant, nearly double the current rate of $5,000 a month. When the Santos family declined because they couldn’t afford the new rent of $9,000, they were given another month’s extension and then another, when the Legal Aid Society and Councilmember Mark Levine rallied to the business owners’ cause.
“It is not cheap to open a restaurant, so for them to pick up and leave in 30 days, it’s just not possible,” Abreu says. “We forget that a lot of these community businesses are immigrant-owned, they are disadvantaged, low-income. They’re not making a lot of money. They provide employment for themselves, for their family, and for other people in the community. But they’re not a multimillion-dollar company. These are mom-and-pop stores.”
The Legal Aid Society’s Community Development Project was able to help the business owners by negotiating leave terms that included more time and relocation expenses. Susan Chase, an attorney with the project who handled the case, says the businesses had little legal recourse when they were told to vacate.
“Unfortunately, if there’s no lease, there’s not a lot a commercial tenant can do,” Chase tells the Voice. “They don’t have any rights to stay. They are at the end of the term and the courts are going to hold that the landlord can take its property back. You know, there’s no defenses to that if there’s no lease.”
Chase says when a landlord refuses to renew a commercial lease, it should signal to businesses that they are in a precarious position and should view it as a warning. And at this point, no law exists in New York to protect commercial renters against these unfair business practices. In this case, though, Chase says the landlord was more than amenable.
Councilman Mark Levine
“The landlord was flexible,” Chase says. “He’d initially given them 30 days then realized they needed more time, then reissued and gave them another 30 days. They had asked for June 30th and he was willing to give them until June 30th to leave. So it wasn’t like — I don’t want to demonize this person. And then he made it a little bit more attractive if they left a little earlier. And many of them were willing to do that.”
Levine has been highlighting the issue of these disappearing businesses because, he says, there is not as much attention paid to the epidemic.
“All the attention in the press is going to the residential displacement, but what small businesses are facing in commercial rents is in essence even worse because there’s far fewer protections,” he says.
Levine says the city should be increasingly concerned with these community businesses because they are vital to the economy. Levine, a Democrat, represents District 7, which includes West Harlem and a portion of Washington Heights.
“I reject the notion that bringing in higher-paying tenants equals economic development,” he says. “The longtime tenants, they are community-based, many are local entrepreneurs. They’re hiring locally, they’re producing economic activity in the neighborhood, they’re providing a way to earn a living for people in the neighborhood.”
Punta Cana is the only business that decided to stay and fight the evictions. Chase believes one reason the Santos family took the landlord to court is because, ultimately, their options are limited. Angel Santos, the owner, is nearly 80 years old.
“I don’t know if he can really leave at this point in his life,” Chase says. “It’s not about starting over. I feel it’s unfortunate we don’t negotiate [leases] sooner.”
Kirsten Theodos, an organizer with TakeBackNYC, a grassroots organization dedicated to empowering and protecting the lives of small-business owners, says the New York City Council needs to pass a law to protect these longtime, minority-owned businesses.
“They’re being discriminated against, basically,” she says. “Everyone in the city unanimously agrees that what’s going on with the rent laws is a debacle. You have councilmembers getting arrested in Albany standing up for [residential] rental rights, but the same councilmembers haven’t said a peep on commercial tenant rights. How is that different? Don’t small businesses deserve rights like residential renters? What’s the difference?”
Theodos says there is already a proposed bill, the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, before the City Council that would protect these businesses, but it doesn’t have enough sponsors to bring it up for a hearing. Councilmember Levine, who is a sponsor of the bill, believes it could make a difference.
“The real estate industry is pushing back and will continue to push back,” he tells the Voice. “I think that’s unfortunate. I think it’s shortsighted.”
Levine says he’s seen this scenario play out time and again across the city: Landlords raise the rent on their commercial tenants, the tenants can’t pay and are forced to move out, chain stores and restaurants move in, and the local fabric of the community is destroyed.
“The money earned in that establishment leaves the neighborhood, and people who work there are less likely to be local,” he says. “The management is less likely to be local. I’d much rather see local businesses hire people from the neighborhood and reinvest in the neighborhood. The smartest people in real estate know that neighborhoods are more valuable, therefore their property is more valuable, when they have character. Those are the kinds of places people want to live in. People today do not want to live in the middle of a suburban-style shopping mall.”
Punta Cana is slated to go to court on July 2 to receive a final judgment. Jacelyn Santos is not optimistic.
“It’s heartbreaking,” she says. “To see that area gentrifying like that — I totally get it; it’s money. It’s just horrible, though. We sit there through the shootings. We were there early. And now that it’s changed, it’s safer, we gotta go. What can we do?”
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo introduced a comprehensive package of legislation and new regulations to protect workers in the nail salon industry. This complements the work of the Governor’s multi-agency task force, which has enforcement teams in the field to recover stolen wages and shut down the industry’s worst offenders. Additionally, the Governor is launching a public education and outreach campaign to help workers understand their rights and ensure that business owners live up to their responsibilities and obligations under the law.
“Our point is simple: exploitation has no place in the state of New York,” Governor Cuomo said. “The rights of nail salon employees must be respected, and we are launching an aggressive crackdown on the industry to make sure that happens. With new legislation and emergency regulations, a public outreach campaign in multiple languages, and a thorough investigation of the chemicals that are used, we are standing up for those who have been unable to stand up for themselves. Today New York State is sending the message loud and clear: we will not tolerate abusive or unsafe working conditions – period.”
This announcement comes just days after Governor Cuomo announced his multi-agency Task Force to quickly correct and prevent unlawful practices and unsafe working conditions in the nail salon industry.
Many nail salon employees endure unsafe working conditions and unfair labor practices. Inadequate ventilation, lack of personal protective equipment, non-payment of wages, nonexistent worker’s compensation coverage, missing business liability insurance, and the unlicensed operation of facilities jeopardize the health and safety of employees and patrons alike. The situation demands immediate action; however, existing statutes impede the State’s ability to act swiftly in order to protect the public and provide employee justice. Therefore, the Governor today introduced legislation focused on providing the State with adequate enforcement authority and providing workers with accessible training and job resources.
Authority to Shut Down Businesses that Violate the Law: The Governor introduced legislation that would authorize the Department of State to take immediate actions against a business that is not following the law. The bill will allow the Department to shut down a business by ordering the cessation of unlicensed or uninsured activities and impose financial penalties at higher levels than is currently permitted in response to violations.
Training and Job Resources for Workers: The Governor introduced legislation that will establish new opportunities for unlicensed nail practitioners to register with the state as trainees, instead of relying on often prohibitively high cost education programs, so they may continue to work while studying for their licensing exam. With this tool, workers can more effectively obtain relevant training and explore opportunities in the industry without being held hostage to any employer. Further, all nail salon workers will have access to the full range of resources available through the Department of Labor to find a job.
Several administrative changes are also being implemented, which include:
Offering Additional Languages: The Department of State will begin administering license exams in the languages of Nepali, Tibetan and Vietnamese, in addition to the following languages currently provided, which are English, Spanish, Korean, Japanese, Russian and Chinese.
Clarifying the License Application: The license application will be clarified to highlight for all applicants what is and is not legally required to obtain a license.
Offering Free English Classes: Office of New Americans English language classes, through Opportunity Centers and the Cell Ed program, will be expanded to include the New York City area. Information about these programs will be provided during the public outreach campaign.
Free Training: Free training materials will be posted on the Department of State’s website and distributed through community centers to help workers more effectively learn the curriculum and study for exams.
The State also enacted new regulations for nail salons that range from surety requirements to protective equipment standards to posting notices. The regulations include:
New Bond and Insurance Requirements: All nail salons — as a condition of obtaining a license — must secure a bond or insurance policy to cover failure to pay legal wages and other general business liabilities. In the event that a nail salon owner is ordered to pay back wages, the new requirement will ensure that the business has the critical funds to meet its legal obligation.
Personal Protective Equipment and Ventilation Requirements: Owners must provide adequate supplies of masks/respirators, nitrile gloves and eye protection. All nail salon workers will be required to wear masks/respirators when buffing or filing nails or handling acrylic powder, and to wear gloves when handling potentially hazardous chemicals or when skin could be broken. Eye protection will be required when transferring potentially hazardous chemicals in bulk containers and when preparing potentially hazardous chemicals for use. In addition, all workers will be informed through highly visible signage that they have the right to demand masks and gloves and to wear them at any time. These regulations are important first steps toward ensuring that New York State has the safest nail salons in the country. Regulations regarding ventilation systems will also be filed.
Health Review of Chemical Agents: Supplementing the regulatory changes relating to products used in Nail Salons, the Department of Health will consult with and review scientific information from federal agencies, including the United States Environmental Protection, Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health to determine the full extent of the knowledge of potential adverse effects of the potentially hazardous chemicals used in nail salons and the levels of exposure that have been shown to occur. DOH will also review the published medical and occupational health literature, consult with other states, work with experts in the field from academia, New York’s network of occupational health clinics, and local health departments, and will engage other stakeholders to assess whether further action is needed on potentially hazardous chemicals found in nail polish. Federal agencies have identified a number of potentially hazardous chemicals in nail salons and new potentially hazardous chemicals are introduced in nail salons over time, requiring ongoing vigilance to determine the potential risk and whether further action is needed to reduce their use by the industry to protect workers and the public.
Bill of Rights: Nail Salons will be required to post, in a place visible to all employees and the public, the Nail Salon Workers’ Bill of Rights which notifies every worker in plain language of their rights to a legal wage and a safer working environment. It will contain a single hotline where workers can ask questions and lodge complaints. The Bill of Rights will be translated into multiple languages and distributed to every salon in the State.
Cease and Desist Postings: This regulation requires any business who receives a “Cease and Desist” hearing notice to post such notice in the window of the establishment so that it is readily viewable by the public.
As the State implements a regulatory and education campaign, new Task Force Enforcement Teams will follow up on the ground to ensure workers are being paid their legal wages and are working in safer environments in compliance with the new rules and regulations. Unlicensed businesses will be ordered to cease operations until they secure the proper licenses. Licensed businesses that are substantially out of compliance with state laws will also face revocation of their license to operate.
Public Outreach Campaign
In addition to advancing legislation and implementing administrative reforms, the Governor is partnering with not-for-profit organizations to advance a robust public education campaign to help business understand their obligations and help workers understand their rights. Task Force members will be joined with community-based organizations, religious groups and community leaders to host a series of public events to thoroughly inform nail salon workers, industry employers and their clients. The targeted education campaign will provide information about the law, workers’ rights, licensing information and the free services and resources available to the public.
Beginning on Wednesday, the State, along with its community partners, will host a series of educational forums for both businesses and employees. The first outreach events will take place in New York and Queens Counties. Several State agencies will be on site to provide attendees with information and services pertaining to business services and compliance. Moreover, the State will have staff on site to discuss and provide the services offered in State career centers including training and other related employment services, such as the JobZone.
The education campaign will also work to clarify for businesses how they can come into and stay in compliance with new and existing Department of State regulations. This information will be provided in multiple languages as well.
Public service announcements on TV and radio and information in local newspapers will be launched in multiple languages to carry the details of the entire program as well as the Task Force hotline number that will connect callers to the information and services. Anyone with questions about nail salons, or who is concerned about proper wages and safe working conditions, should contact the Task Force Hotline at 1-888-469-7365.
Partnering with Community and Business Groups
The State is working with key partners to help educate employers and employees and inform regulatory reform and enforcement efforts. The groups include:
National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum
National Council of Asian Pacific Americans
National Employment Law Project
Miliann Kang, author of The Managed Hand: Race, Gender and the Body in Beauty Service Work
MinKwon Center for Community Action
New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health
New York Lawyers for the Public Interest
Planned Parenthood of New York City
Korean-American Nail Salon Association
The New York Women’s Chamber of Commerce
Hispanic Cosmetology Beauty Chamber of Commerce
Latino Justice and Catholic Migration Services
Rachel Spector, Environmental Justice Attorney, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, said: “New York Lawyers for the Public Interest praises Governor Cuomo for his swift and important actions to raise employment standards in the nail salon industry, reduce workers’ exposure to harmful chemicals, and ensure safe and healthy workplaces. We look forward to working with the Governor on these important initiatives.”
Luna Ranjit, Co-founder & Executive Director, Adhikaar, said: “Adhikaar applauds the Governor for moving to address egregious conditions that exist in the nail salon industry. In particular, we are excited by his efforts to improve access to licenses and to create an apprenticeship program, efforts that will help protect vulnerable workers and provide better job opportunities.”
Haeyoung Yoon, Deputy Program Director, National Employment Law Project, said: “We applaud Governor Cuomo for moving swiftly to tackle widespread wage theft in the nail salon industry by taking important steps to protect and enforce workers’ rights, to make it easier for workers to collect unpaid wages, and to work with the business community to promote their compliance with the law.”
Charlene Obernauer, Executive Director, New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, said: “NYCOSH applauds the Governor for moving forward groundbreaking new regulations to create healthy nail salons in New York. Ventilation systems are critical to reducing levels of toxic exposure in nail salons, both for workers and consumers; and personal protective equipment like gloves and respirators are essential protection for nail salon workers.”
Miriam Yeung, Executive Director, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, said: “The National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum commends Governor Cuomo for issuing the strongest safety and wage theft protections for nail salon workers in the country, for taking a variety of steps to expand access to licensing exams and safety and labor rights information — especially for making exams and information accessible to the Nepali, Tibetan and Vietnamese communities — and for partnering with community groups to facilitate outreach and education to both salon owners and workers about new regulations and workers’ rights. We look forward to continuing to work with the Governor, workers, owners and consumers to transform nail salons in New York into safe places that provide good jobs for workers — the majority of whom are Asian immigrant women.”
Grace Shim, Executive Director, MinKwon Center for Community Action, said: “Now is the moment for all us to come together to directly address a crisis that affects the whole community. We must involve employers, workers, and customers alike to develop long-term, multi-pronged, comprehensive strategies that both protect vulnerable, immigrant workers and support struggling, immigrant small-business owners. We are happy to partner with the Governor’s office to hold this ‘community forum’ which affords New Yorkers an opportunity to hear from the Governor’s office and to share any questions and concerns they may have. We encourage everyone in the community to attend.”
Quenia Abreu, President & CEO, The New York Women’s Chamber of Commerce, said: “We are proud to be partnering with Governor Cuomo to help educate nail salon owners to ensure they are in compliance with regulations and the law. Improvements in the nail salon industry translate directly to improvements for women and minorities, which is a key part of our mission.”
Charito Cisneros, founder, Hispanic Cosmetology and Beauty Chamber of Commerce, said: “I applaud Governor Cuomo for his leadership in ensuring that all nail salon workers are properly trained and licensed, which will improve our industry as a whole. I look forward to working with the State in expanding our efforts to help nail salon workers and their employers.”
The New York Women’s Chamber of Commerce partnered with Turner School of Construction, the West Harlem Group Assistance, and the City College Office of Continuing and Professional Studies to offer a Construction Management course in which over 40 people enrolled and successfully completed the 8- Week program from January 20th , 2015 to March 12th , 2015. Among the lectures for the program were Field Management, Insurance, Access to Capitol, Site Safety Coordination, Construction Law, How to Read Construction Drawings, etc. Professionals in the fields of Construction, Real Estate, Architecture, Engineering, Electricity, and Law took advantage of this course. In addition, it was a tremendous opportunity to network and get to know more about the actors within the construction industry at all levels. Most importantly, some of them were there to learn and apply the knowledge to their start-up business whereas some were there to grasp as much information as possible to incorporate it to their actual jobs and henceforth upgrade their knowledge and expertise in the industry. In brief, we would like to add that the New York Women’s Chamber of Commerce is proud to be part of any effort to grow and expand the Small Businesses and that up-scale the community that we serve. Lastly, we would like to thank Turner School of Construction Management and City College Office of Continuing and Professional Studies for the partnership and for making the program a steady growing success.