Columbus Proposes Crackdown on All Commerce Outside of Store Business
Columbus foodies are pretty proud of the wide array of food trucks across our city. ECDI has created a supply hub for these trucks called “the Food Fortress,” and there are entire tour groups that do nothing but go around town sampling from different taco trucks.
Well, Columbus City Council members have had enough of this foolishness. We’re all supposed to get our butts inside in a proper restaurant and stop these shenanigans of conducting business transactions on sidewalks and in alleys…and vacant lots…and your own doorway…and “all other tract(s) of land” in the city of Columbus. At least that’s what one would be led to believe reading the drafts of two proposed pieces of legislation up for a public hearing in the Columbus City Council Chambers this Thursday, June 14th, at 5:00 p.m.
“He’s off his rocker!” I can hear you saying. “They wouldn’t outlaw all commerce that doesn’t take place in a store!” And you’d be right on both counts. The chair I have in front of my computer doesn’t rock, and there are ways around this ordinance. You can still sell things without your own brick-and-mortar store if you want to pay $150 for a license–or $75 if you only want to work for four months…just so long as you apply 30 days in advance. And don’t have a criminal record. And don’t operate in a residential neighborhood after 6:00 p.m. And don’t run across a cop who decides all on his own that you’re doing something “reasonably inappropriate”–because under this ordinance, the police get to make up certain parts of the law (well, most of the parts, actually) as they go along. Yes, that law actually leaves to the personal discretion of each individual officer whether an item or activity is “reasonably inappropriate.”
If you meet these and a slew of other, fairly difficult-to-predict-let-alone-comply-with conditions, then you’ll be allowed to pay seventy-five bucks for a license to take a few of your homegrown tomatoes across the street to your neighbor to trade for some of her home-baked bread. (Oh, did I forget to mention this code would also regulate bartering?) Just don’t get caught standing still. Or blocking the view of any store’s display window. Or being less than ten feet from a fire hydrant. Or carrying your goods in any sort of container…unless you’re disabled! If you’re sufficiently disabled, then they’ll let you get away with having two 12″ containers that you can set on the ground…as long as you keep them right next to your wheelchair and leave 5′ of the sidewalk clear. Yes, even if the sidewalk is only four feet wide. Yes, even if your disability makes it physically impractical to carry your merchandise continuously but doesn’t confine you to a wheelchair–like if you have only one arm. If you have only one arm, they’ll let you set down your two 12″ baskets of tomatoes, but only right next to your wheelchair. Just make sure your wheelchair doesn’t have any sort of portable signs on it. And when you feel like you’re ready to get up and finish walking to your neighbor’s house, don’t set those tomato baskets on your wheelchair while you push it with your one good arm. That could be considered a rack, dolly, wheelbarrow, grocery cart, baby carriage, stroller, or handcart, which would be strictly prohibited under this code.
Oh, one more thing. Just a trifling thing, really. That’s why I almost forgot it. You know that part of the Bill of Rights that says, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized?” You know, the Fourth Amendment? Well, you can still have that, or you can apply for a commercial sales license in Columbus, but you can’t do both. This code says that “Upon request, applicants shall make available to the License Section any or all of such applicant’s books, records and papers, within a reasonable time, before a license is granted or while a license is in effect.” So… Constitutional rights or the ability to conduct business in the city of Columbus without paying thousands of dollars a month to rent a store. Take yer pick.
Now that’s how you create jobs and revitalize a city’s economy! You take all these people who got so tired of not being able to find a job that pays a living wage that they finally decided to start their own meager business on a shoestring, and you kick ‘em all into jail for not having an extra $150 to pay off the city. And then, when they can’t afford their fines, court costs, and the costs of doing business, their souls will eventually be crushed and they’ll finally resign themselves to a life of collecting a government check and standing in line for any old job at all, regardless of how they’re treated or whether it pays enough to live on. With large, well-capitalized businesses no longer having to pay competitive wages or offer anything resembling benefits, they’ll have lots of discretionary income to gamble on Wall Street. That means more trading, more paper getting pushed around hedge fund managers’ offices, more buying and selling (of financial instruments, at least) and voila! Economic recovery! See? These city council folks know what they’re doing. They’re looking out for us.
If you’re not convinced that they are, be at the Columbus Council Chambers at 90 West Broad Street Thursday, June 14th (that’s tomorrow) at 5:00 p.m. There’s going to be a public hearing and discussion. Presumably, that means we’ll get to have our say. And if this gets pushed through anyway, all of you who live inside the Columbus city limits can forget about me delivering stuff to your homes until this gets straightened out. I’m not going to jail to save you a three-mile drive to my farm, five-dollar delivery fee or not.
If this thing passes, I’m really interested to see how the pizza places are going to handle it. If they don’t do all their financial transactions over the phone or computer (or by mail, if you’re really planning ahead) prior to delivery, that means the person delivering your pizza fits Columbus’ legal definition of a peddler, and thus has to be licensed. Most restaurants could probably absorb this fee without too much chafing, but the part I’m curious about is how they’re going to get your pizza to you. If the delivery driver is a licensed peddler, he’s not allowed to store the goods in any sort of a container–like a pizza box–while carrying it on the public sidewalk. Would you like napkins with that?