Getting a business license in Providence just got easier

Business owner Sean Larkin fills out an online license application.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – If you wanted to open a new restaurant or bodega somewhere in Providence over the last several decades, you needed to make the trek to City Hall to obtain various forms just to begin the tedious process.

Depending on the type of business, that meant filling out several pieces paperwork that often required the same personal information on each page. And that was all before you paid the application fee, which can run from a few hundred dollars to more than $2,000.

The fees aren’t going anywhere, but city officials announced Tuesday the application process has moved entirely online. The change, they say, is designed to streamline the process for obtaining a business license, removing at least some of the hurdles business owners must cross before opening their doors.

Sean Larkin, the co-founder of Revival Brewing Company who is opening Troop River Valley Eatery on Valley Street, acknowledged hearing “nightmare” stories from other business owners when it comes to licensing. But he said the online process and customer service provided by the city was first rate.

“It was awesome,” Larkin said.

Emmanuel Echevarria, the city’s chief innovation officer, said the city decided to piggyback on the state’s effort to create a centralized e-permitting process and extend the online portal to help with licensing. He said clerks in the licensing department have already received 10 hours of training on the new system and his department will continue to offer assistance in the coming months.

For business owners who aren’t computer savvy, Echevarria said, the clerks will assist them in filling out their applications in the city’s licensing office. He said the online system went live for liquor licenses over the summer, but all other business licenses moved online last week. Only individuals seeking bodyworks licenses – like massage parlors – are still required to fill out an application in person.

When it comes to cost, Echevarria said the city will pay Boston-based ViewPoint $3 for each processes application. He estimated that the city will spend $30,000 a year on licenses. The city’s licensing department processes more than 8,000 licenses per year, including 400 liquor licenses.

The rest of the licensing process remains the same. Once an application is submitted, clerks review it and then business owners must submit a payment. Then the licensing department schedules a time for them to appears in front of the Board of Licenses, a five-member panel that meets three times each week.

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan