Did You Get Your Competitor's Permission to Open that Business?

Last July, the County Council in San Juan County, Washington adopted a new ordinance [PDF] requiring both a permit and the payment of a daily $50 fee from vendors operating on public property. According to the ordinance's language, its objective is "to protect the public health, safety and welfare of the people of San Juan County," but read a little further and the real purpose of the ordinance becomes all too clear (emphasis added):

The applicant for a Public Place Use Permit shall provide the County Administrator or his designee with the following:
A. The applicant's name, home address, business address, state business license, and contact information;
B. A site plan showing the proposed location which shall not exceed 50 square feet;
C. A list of the goods or wares to be offered for sale;
D. The dates for which the applicant seeks permission to use the public place for sales, which period shall not exceed 6 months;
E. Written consent of all business owners within 25 feet of the application site; and
F. Payment of a fee of $ 50.00 per day

That's right, street vendors need to get written permission from their brick & mortar competitors before setting up shop. And—brace yourself—it just so happens that the brick & mortar businesses pushed for the ordinance in the first place.

Also, if you happen to sell newspapers, sell ice cream from a truck, or sell anything on behalf of "charitable, religious or fraternal, nonprofit organizations," you're exempted from the law (see Section 5). Apparently, those vendors miraculously pose zero "public health, safety or welfare" risks, unlike produce vendor Gary Franco (pictured above), who's been selling fruits and vegetables in and around San Juan county for three decades without incident.

In other words, the ordinance is an arbitrary and unnecessary regulation that violates the basic right to earn a living. Which is precisely why the libertarian public interest law firm the Institute for Justice filed suit on behalf of Franco today to have this ridiculous ordinance struck from the books. Here's hoping they succeed.

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  • Joe M||

    Wow, that's a real beaut. Reminds me of some of the anti-trust stuff I read about Alcoa in Ayn Rand's Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.

  • Rich||

    IANAL, but surely "application site" means the location where the application form is signed.

  • ||

    Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't see the big deal. It's not competitor's permission you need, it's the business within 25 feet. 25 feet is very close and people who can just set up shop will use the good location of established businesses (who have to pay rent) to attract customers. As a business owner I wouldn't want somebody just setting up a stand selling something right outside my business, potentially soliciting customers who came to see me and therefore possibly affecting my business.

  • MS||

    Matt, I agree that it isn't as onerous as it might seem on the surface. But $50/day plus the paperwork is a large burden.

    If the ordinence saad:
    No street business within 5 or 10 feet of a business if the business objects.

    Then it might satisfy the businesses, and not be to intrucive.

  • twv||

    Sidewalk businesses are inevitably problematic. Sidewalks are thought to be a public service to adjacent property owners, allowing public access to the property owners' businesses and homes. They are designed for foot traffic.

    Add a vendor on the sidewalk, and you get someone on public property whose costs are minimal. This is a problem of regulating a commons that was designed for restricted purpose. Ignoring that purpose (serving the adjacent businesses) amounts to breach of contract, no?

    OK, this would all be solved were the sidewalks privately owned and maintained. It would no longer be a public issue.

    But those private sidewalks would likely have a corporate management with policies VERY SIMILAR to the ones here described. Or, at least more onerous than a free-for-all, which seems to be some libertarians' baseline notion. Which makes no sense.

  • ||

    The problem with defending liberty and freedom is that it entails defending hippies.

  • Suki||

    Caption this law:

    "charitable, religious or fraternal, nonprofit organizations,"

    Che, Hamas and Hezbollah fundraiser protection act.

  • Suki||

    OK, this would all be solved were the sidewalks privately owned and maintained. It would no longer be a public issue.

    Suki likes.

  • VM||

    right to earn a living?

    (apologies - am overly sensitive to this phrasing today - listened to a Vick apologist saying that he DESERVES to be in the NFL, cuz he has a right to earn a living)

  • Jonas||

    I can see why the businesses are upset, but frankly public property is public property and I don't think the interests of the brick-and-mortar businesses get to trump the rights of people who have access to the sidewalks.

    This is why, as twv points out, we should just fundamentally rethink the idea of public sidewalks anyway. But sadly it's just easier for wealthier types to get politicians to regulate things in their favor.

  • ||

    In many places, the property owners are responsible for the costs of maintaining the sidewalks in front of their buildings (even though they are technically public property). I really don't know if that's the case in this town, but if it is, it reinforces the notion that it makes perfect sense to get approval from any business that close.

  • Hobo Chang Ba||

    At $1500 a month, it would be better for them just to rent a small store, right? What a joke.

  • ||

    In other words, the ordinance is an arbitrary and unnecessary regulation that violates the basic right to earn a living.

    No one is stopping these people from buying or renting property on which to ply their trade. Indeed, it doesn't even prevent them from doing so on public property more than 25 feet of any objecting businesses. That's more generous than I think they deserve.

    public property is public property

    Yes. And street vendors who set up shop on public property are denying the use of said property to the rest of the public. In my opinion street vending should be considered loitering and prosecuted as such (in addition to the street vendors' carts being fed to a wood chipper and used to fill the bottom of guinea pig cages).

    I don't think the interests of the brick-and-mortar businesses get to trump the rights of people who have access to the sidewalks.

    What about the people who would like to walk on the sidewalk without having to navigate around hot dog stands and lines of people standing at them.

  • anonymous||

    "And street vendors who set up shop on public property are denying the use of said property to the rest of the public."

    On the other hand, the rest of the public is denying the use of the property to street vendors.

    But seriously, both "street vendors" and "sidewalk travelers" are members of the public, using the public area to improve their lives. While siding with vendors may somewhat inconvenience pedestrians, siding with pedestrians (the subset of pedestrians that is really bothered by the vendors, more specifically) puts the vendors out of a job, which is a much larger harm.

  • Paul||

    Matt, you say:

    It's not competitor's permission you need

    Then immediately follow with this gem:

    As a business owner I wouldn't want somebody just setting up a stand selling something right outside my business, potentially soliciting customers who came to see me and therefore possibly affecting my business.

    So what you're saying is, they need permission from their competitors.

  • Paul||

    public property is public property



    Yes. And street vendors who set up shop on public property are denying the use of said property to the rest of the public. In my opinion street vending should be considered loitering and prosecuted as such


    Right. Public property: get off, you're not allowed to be here, this is public property!

    All public property is theft.

  • robc||

    Nearly very time I watch No Reservations, I think that we need more street vendors in the US.

    Not less. More. The laws need to actually encourage it (without subsidizing it).

  • Suki||

    Do the people selling intimate private contact get the same deal as the ice cream people?

  • Rhywun||

    And street vendors who set up shop on public property are denying the use of said property to the rest of the public.



    In NYC, vendors frequently clog up the sidewalks. Solution: I walk in the street.

    The thing with street vendors in America is, is that most American cities aren't set up to handle them properly. Street vendors work best in plazas or pedestrian streets - both very infrequent in American cities.

  • ||

    That's what regulation has always been about: using the government to lock out your competition.

    -jcr

  • ||

    A payment of $50.00 per day is onerous. That adds up to $1000.00 per month, assuming weekends off. Which is likely to wipe out the earnings of many street vendors entirely. That's probably as much as the rent on their competitors businesses that they have to get permission from.

  • Suki||

    HM,

    Shouldn't they be doing big business on weekends? Sorry, I am not a Business major, so please excuse my stupid.

  • robc||

    Suki,

    It depends on location. In downtown Louisville, for example, a number of restaurants arent open nights or weekends, they get all their business from workday lunch crowds. I would imagine street vendors in a similar location would be the same.

    In other locations, weekends would be the prime business hours. I can think of a couple of places that food vendors would make bank friday and saturday night.

  • Suki||

    Thank you robc!

  • Craig||

    I lived in San Juan County for 25 years and taught school on Lopez Island. San Juan County in Washington state is a small county consisting of a number of islands connected by boat, ferries, and small plane.

    I have known Gary Franco for most of those years and taught his son. Gary is a hard working individual who provides seasonal employment for a number of people.

    There is a long standing tradition of open air public markets on Lopez, Orcas, and San Juan Islands that has been encouraged by the locals and the county governments. Gary Franco travels from island to island and even to Seattle some 100 miles to the south to do his business.

    Gary Franco donates time from his busy schedule to help out others...He and I do not always agree on politics but he is honest, hard working, and a positive force in the local society.

    This is an outrage.

  • ||

    "E. Written consent of all business owners within 25 feet of the application site; and
    F. Payment of a fee of $ 50.00 per day"

    This is crap. How are we supposed to promote free enterprise when competitors now have the authority to veto permits? What's next; oldest business in a shared building gets to yay or nay the new store coming in?

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