City, stores clash over carts

City, stores clash over carts

Ten years ago, Dave Taylor opened the Read It Again, Sam used bookstore, and as a way of pulling in customers, he placed waist-high racks of paperback fiction outside his front door on the bricks of the Downtown Mall.

“Twenty-five percent of my business is from the carts,” he says.

A decade later, however, Taylor was notified by a letter dated June 12 from the city zoning inspector that he was violating city zoning, specifically code sections 28-30 and 28-111, which state that “the primary purpose of the public streets and sidewalks is for use by vehicular and pedestrian traffic.” As a result, “no retail items are to be displayed on the downtown pedestrian mall or on any sidewalk at any time.”

Away, offending bookcarts! A “change of guard” in City Hall means that Read It Again, Sam used bookstore can’t put out its carts of fiction, despite their presence on the Mall for the last 10 years.

While this excluded approved vendors like those that sell dresses or sunglasses in the middle of the Mall, the notice did cover “bookcases, tables, statues and furniture,” items that were to be removed by June 19. If they weren’t, a criminal misdemeanor and a possible $2,500 fine loomed.

According to city spokesperson Ric Barrick, a recent “change of guard” in the city’s zoning office as well as complaints about the Mall “becoming more of an obstacle course and creating safety concerns” led to a re-evaluation of the legality of displays such as the bookstore’s. Accordingly, many businesses on the Downtown Mall like Glo, Cha-Cha’s and C-VILLE were simultaneously cited for their sandwich board signs. For them, there is an easy solution: All they have to do is apply for a sign permit and pay a $75 fee. After the Downtown Business Association appealed the ruling, Director of Neighborhood Development Services Jim Tolbert agreed to waive the fee.

The Downtown Business Association has also negotiated a 90-day postponement while they work with the city over revisions to the ordinances “that would be more acceptable to the business community and eventually approved by the City Council.” While that will allow stores like Blue Whale Books and Oyster House Antiques to display items outside their store during the summer, it has done little to assuage the concerns of Taylor, who is worried about the effects the citation’s enforcement could have in this current economic downturn.

“If my bookcarts weren’t out there,” he says, “I’d lose a lot of my business.”

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