Immovable Objects

20Jun14

vendorFor the first time in living memory peddlers in Wakefield, MA are being asked to abide by the town’s regulations. But from the reaction, you’d think that instead of being asked to move 100 feet every two hours they were being forced to run the gauntlet.

Contrary to popular belief, local regulations have always indicated that hawkers and peddlers were supposed to move “from place to place” when doing business in town. And the regs have always said, quite explicitly, that “No vendor has a right to a specific location.”

So there was never any doubt as to the intent. The problem was that the old regulations were silent when it came to exactly how often and how far the peddlers were supposed to move. Nature abhors a vacuum and the peddlers took full advantage of it. Several of them have occupied the same locations all day, every day, from spring through fall for years. And with the vagueness of the old regulations, the town couldn’t tell them how often they were supposed to move, so it let them be.

Then last September, the Board of Selectmen tightened up the rules for peddlers in Wakefield. They added language stating that peddlers had to move at least 100 feet every two hours and they could not return to the same location twice in one day.

William J. Lee Memorial Town HallThe board was actually scheduled to vote on the amended regulations in April of 2013. But on that night several local peddlers came before the board to plead their cases. It would be a hardship for them to move throughout the day, they said. The selectmen backed off and tabled the matter. The issue didn’t come up again until last September, so the peddlers essentially got a reprieve for the summer of 2013.

But the writing was on the wall. It’s not as if everyone couldn’t see it coming.

Last September 23, the selectmen voted unanimously to amend the regulations to specify that hawkers and peddlers “may stop from time to time to do business, but never for more than two (2) hours, and on any given day they may not stop within one hundred feet (100’) of any location at which they had previously stopped on that day.”

The regulation goes on to state that “if they stop to do business on a public way it must be on a sidewalk” and not on the street. “If they stop to do business on land other than the public way,” the new regulation continues, “they must have permission of the owner of such land.”

Are these rules arbitrary and unfair? It has been pointed out that several of the vendors who would be negatively impacted have become “icons” and “institutions” at their respective locations.

Unfortunately, the law does not provide an exemption for popularity.

And what about other businesses in town that operate from permanent locations, such as buildings? If they own their location, they pay a mortgage and property taxes. If they don’t own the property they pay rent to the owner.

The reason peddlers don’t have to pay a mortgage, rent or taxes on their location is because they don’t have a location, or at least they’re not supposed to have a location. Peddlers are by definition supposed to move from place to place, not squat on public land.

bellinos_deck2Businesses with permanent locations are also subject to zoning regulations. This is in part because by permanently occupying a location or structure, they impact on a daily basis the landscape, look and feel of the neighborhood that they occupy. Such businesses often have to attend endless hearings before the local Zoning Board and spend tremendous sums of money on expensive lawyers, architects, engineers and landscape designers before they are allowed to conduct business at their chosen location. Ask Cumberland Farms how much they recently spent for the right to do business at the head of the Lake. They’ll probably tell you that it’s part of the cost of doing business.

Is it fair that some businesses operating from fixed locations have to follow the rules and are subject to certain expenses as the cost of doing business, while other businesses that operate from fixed locations every day get a free ride?

The reason that a peddler is exempt from the expensive and time-consuming process of getting zoning relief for his location is because he doesn’t have a location – or at least he’s not supposed to have a location.

Some have described the updated regulations on hawkers and peddlers as “heavy-handed” and “anti-business.”

But none of this has happened in a vacuum and no one is being singled out. At a meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals just last week, the town decided to ramp up its enforcement on brick and mortar businesses too.

The regulations have always required peddlers to move around. They have always contained the words, “No vendor has a right to a specific location.” The vendors knew what the regulations said and that they were on borrowed time if the town ever decided to enforce them.

The town needs to decide whether it is going to enforce its own rules and regulations or let enforcement be dictated by a popularity contest.

[This column originally appeared in the June 19, 2014 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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8 Responses to “Immovable Objects”

  1. 1 Chris McChalicher

    I have been on the fence ever since I saw the re-emphasis appear in the minutes last year. But Mark, I think you have oversimplified the presentation because you have a penchant against the Hawker and Peddler business model. At least judging from past columns… (e.g. “Fred’s Franks must Go” – and maybe its just the one, but the title there seems straight-forward enough)…

    To your statement: “local regulations have always indicated…”: I don’t think anyone can argue with this being true. I’m just not sure it’s relevant. Things change, and past ordinances should always be reconsidered. So let’s scrap that one.

    Also, clearly stated: the “specific location” clause. No argument that it existed.

    But. are there fights breaking out among the Peddlers for real estate? (If there are – I imagine it was instead the Hawkers instigating…)

    Ice cream trucks fighting over territory?

    I suppose I’m blissfully unaware of these things. To me, it looked like there were very few of these types around, and they were coexisting quite well. Again – it seems like a regulation to regulate. I’d have to say I’m opposed. I like to solve problems, not beat down wimpy straw-man arguments.

    What seems to anchor me to your side of the fence is the argument for contribution to the state of affairs.

    Taxes. Here I’m in complete agreement.

    Brick-and-mortar bring with them a tax base. Many Peddlers will not. Maybe they’re preparing their wares in town, and are thus tax payers, but many may not. And if they are, they are likely not taxes at what I imagine are inflated commercial rates (either directly by rate or indirectly by property value in a commercial zone).

    It seems we could be more creative. Perhaps charge more for a permit? Is it allowed? Maybe it is confusing with the two tier permit process (state/local overlap) – but generally I’m in favor of making money for the town from profitable ventures, rather than shutting down those activities for shoddy “This is the way it was!” reasoning. If a city doesn’t have the sovereignty to establish Peddler permitting (again, I’m clearly anti-Hawker), it sounds like an issue that needs to be deregulated at the Commonwealth level so that towns can govern themselves.

    I’d argue that diversity brings the best environment for business. So I think I’m ultimately pro-Peddler liberation. A mix of durable brick-and-mortar institutions and low barrier to entry Peddlers provide opportunities for all sorts of small business owners to become successful.

    As a thought experiment I’d present the Wakefield Farmer’s Market. If the non-farmer merchants (farmers do not require licenses to sell their home-grown fresh foods) are exempt from this ordinance – why? If not, will the Wakefield police be there to escort them away at 11am tomorrow morning?

    The Farmer’s Market does not seem to be a special cause – it is a regular event (not a special event, fair, carnival, 5K etc. that is provided for in the ordinance). It is given a designated spot on what I imagine is public property. It lasts for four hours (9am to 1pm), which I think is longer than two. And really, the cars and trucks are usually parked illegally, impeding traffic and the sidewalk…

    I don’t get the double standard. To be clear – I am pro- Wakefield Farmer’s Market. Everyone should go. There are some really great vendors.

    I realize I may have written more than you, Mark. If only I got paid by the word! I get tired of apparent elitism in a community – the sentiment that “We’re better than Peddlers!” or “We’re better than sausage, slush, and fresh cut flowers!” or “We don’t want garbage trucks orbiting our gated communities!” (wait, that’s Winchester….sorry). The end.

    • 2 Mark Sardella

      Thank you for the reply.
      First, I don’t have anything against the hawker & peddler business model, nor do I see it as a case of “elitism.” I do have a problem with operating under such a license but conducting business as a stationary take-out restaurant, rather than moving from place to place as called for the local regs and in the legal definition of a peddler. That the same case I made in the earlier column, by the way. I have never written anything negative about peddlers who conduct business as peddlers.

      The Farmers Market operates under a completely different kind of license. It’s apples and oranges. They are not “hawkers and peddlers.” No double standard.

      Most towns have similar or more stringent regs and would not allow a stationary food truck to operate for as long as Wakefield has, for free, on the same patch of public land.

      • 3 Bronwyn

        I agree with you, Mark. This sticky situation would not have developed had the rules been actively enforced all along. Having said that, we must begin somewhere to make the playing field a little more even and there will be adjustment aches and pains. It is quite obvious to me that most other towns have more stringent ordinances and also have, for the most part, done a more consistent job of enforcement. They put the ordinances in place for a reason – so why shouldn’t they be enforced? And that “apparent elitism”? I do not recall any comment suggesting we get RID of peddlers – only that they abide by the law and find appropriate locations.

  2. 4 Paul Blake

    For the past eleven years, Fred’s Franks has been a thriving landmard at Wakefield Circle. That fact alone may show that both the town and the state have acknowledged that that spot is indeed Fred’s to use. One could also state that he has “improved” the property. Carl has, in the past, offered to pay rents and/or taxes to assure his place there. To now, after eleven years, decide to enforce a minor law is both petty and cruel. It is also foolish. The Wakefield Police Dept. Has admitted that by Frank’s being there, break-ins are down in that parking lot. Well done.
    You have taken down a thriving small businessman who supports local vendors, brings in business to the town and makes that area safer. I wonder what your actions have just told other entrepreneurs?

    • 5 Mark Sardella

      Concerning the view that Wakefield is being unreasonably strict in enforcing the regulations, I think it’s clear that the opposite has been true. Wakefield has been way more lenient for a far longer period of time than any other town would ever be.

      • 6 Paul Blake

        With respect to the idea that the Town of Wakefield is being overly strict in enforcing the rules I believe that in the past they have instead used their wisdom and common sense to employ their discretionary powers in a situation, ie. Fred’s Franks, where safety is concerned. Moving a cart with fired-up grills every 2 hours is not prudent. Also,
        If I may repeat myself, this is an established business that has become a Landmark in this town for 11 years. It should be beneficial to all to find common ground to make this work.

      • That’s quite an exaggeration, Mark. You can operate a food truck in Boston on a public site with a peddler’s license, and there are no draconian requirements like having to pick up and move every two hours. I don’t have to tell you how successful that program is…

  3. We should enforce the peddler laws when we enforce the marijuana and immigration laws and the laws specifying the roles of the three branches of government.


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