STARTING A BUSINESS"Now because you have so many different places, you have so many choices, people are trying things that are totally different, that they've never even thought they would try, and they're loving it."
Owner, Ms. Tootsie's
The Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I) is the chief regulatory agency for the City of Philadelphia. It regulates business activity through the issuance of licenses and permits. The License Issuance Unit processes license requests.
How do I know if I need a license for my type of business?
The License Issuance Unit will help you get information about the process as well as provide application packages upon request. L&I's service representatives will be able to provide information on the type of licenses your specific retail business or restaurant require, the cost of each license, and what conditions you may have to fulfill to obtain the licenses.
The representative will mail you an application package at your request. You may also obtain this material by calling the License Issuance Hotline at 215.686.2490 or in person at:
Department of Licenses and Inspections
1401 John F. Kennedy Boulevard
Public Services Concourse
Philadelphia, PA 19102
No business can be licensed unless the location is properly zoned. License Issuance will make you aware if you must apply to the Zoning Unit for approval. In most cases, if the kind of business you intend to operate is the same kind that was previously operated at that address, additional zoning approval will not be required. However, if you propose a different kind of business for that location, in most cases you will require this approval. During the zoning review process, the "use registration" currently on file is compared with your proposed use. If the structure will be used differently from the previous owner's use, you will require a Use Registration Permit. This permit is the City's official record of the new use of your business site. A zoning application can be requested by calling the Zoning Unit at 215.686.2435.
Construction Permits (Building/Plumbing/Electrical)
If your structure is new or an existing structure requiring major renovations, the construction work must be approved by the appropriate permit units.
For information regarding:
Building permits, call 215.686.2467
Plumbing permits, call 215.686.2578
Electrical permits, call 215.686.2513
Certificate of Occupancy
Some business licenses require that you have occupancy approval before you can receive a license. This usually occurs in instances when the building is new or where there is a change in use. A Certificate of Occupancy (C.O.) certifies that building requirements have been met. The process of obtaining a C.O. begins in the Building Services section of L&I when you apply for a permit. The actual C.O. is finally issued from L&I's district offices after the completed work has been inspected. When you apply for your business license, you may forward a copy of the C.O. to License Issuance, along with your license application. This will allow the unit to process the application more quickly. Please do not send the original document. For information regarding a C.O., call Building Services at 215.686.2467.
Health Department Approvals
Businesses that handle food require Health Department approval. Here is a guide from the Health Department that outlines the permits and licenses required to operate a stationary food business in the City of Philadelphia: PDF | 829KB.
For more information, contact one of the following Health Centers:
Center City and South Philadelphia (#1, 2, & 6)
500 S. Broad St.
Philadelphia, PA 19146
West and Southwest Philadelphia (#3 & 4)
555 S. 43rd St.,
Philadelphia, PA 19104
North and N.W. Philadelphia (#5, 8, & 9)
131 E. Chelten Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19144
Northeast Philadelphia (#7 & 10)
2230 Cottman Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19149
Streets Department Approvals
Licenses for businesses that have sidewalk cafes or other encroachments into the sidewalk require Streets Department approval. The telephone number pertaining to the appropriate unit, as required, will be listed in your application. For more information, call the Streets Department at 215.686.5501.
Signs, awnings, canopies, or similar fixtures and structures that encroach the public sidewalk or are located in certain zoning control areas may require Art Commission approval. You may be required to submit working drawings of the actual design and other documentation. The Art Commission is located on the 12th Floor of 1515 Arch Street. For more information, call 215.683.2095.
What does L&I do when my application package is received?
When L&I receives your package:
1. L&I forwards your Business Tax Account Number application to the Revenue Department so that it can assign you a number.
2. The Revenue Department will forward your tax number to L&I so that License Issuance can process your license application.
3. License Issuance will review your application for completeness, process it, forward it for approvals (as required), issue your business license, and mail it to you (or present it to you over the counter, in person, in applicable situations).
4. If your application is incomplete, License Issuance will contact you by telephone at the number you provide on your application form or return the application to you by mail for completion.
How long does this process normally take?
If the application forms are completed fully and all other applicable conditions are met, issuance of your license may be processed in the same day. However, this time period may be extended when additional approvals are required. Regular business hours for the License Issuance Unit are 8:00 AM to 5:00PM, Monday through Friday.
What can I do if L&I denies my application?
If your license request has been denied or your existing license has been revoked, you can appeal the decision to the Board of Licenses and Inspections Review. To file an appeal, call the Board at 215.686.2427.