"I'm one of the hippest things on the boardwalk, as some of the newspapers has said," he claimed in court.

But a new Ocean City rule implemented this June banned street performers from that North Division Street area, so public safety officials could use it for staging in the event of disaster.

Fire Chief Christopher Larmore said in court last month that he asked for the change and agreed to give performers access to all street ends in the 28 blocks north of Division Street in exchange for that one spot. He says it's wider than other streets and has both an entrance and exit.

But Chase doesn't want to move and says he shouldn't have to. He has since relocated a block over to Caroline Street and claims his daily sales are down about $750 a day because of it.

He complained to the local press, and the Rutherford Institute read the accounts and tracked him down. The group agreed to help him file the suit, which claims that restrictions on his art performances are unconstitutional.

So far, the judge agrees with him on two points — the permit requirement and the sales ban — though she declined to strike down the location rule sought by public safety officials, which she found to be a "reasonable time, place, and manner restriction."

The city began requiring the permits as a way to know who might be interacting with children, Ocean City Mayor Richard W. Meehan said in court. Last year, 550 people signed up for the performance art permits, many of them costumed performers who greet kids and pose for pictures. The town wanted to know who was under the outfit, in case issues were reported.

Meehan also said that the limits on sales are there to keep merchants from selling goods on the boardwalk and competing with brick-and-mortar stores, though he acknowledged that an artist whose performance produces a product is not necessarily a merchant.

"I think he is operating a business, but he falls under the category of street performer, and will be treated as such," Meehan said after the hearing.

Under the town's rules, Chase and other performers were only allowed to accept tips, and they couldn't suggest prices for their performances or products. Judge Hollander's temporary order has suspended those rules for now.

"I'm thrilled," Chase said of the development. "So many people can now show up on weekends and do their things without being thrown off the boardwalk."

He shrugged off the idea of competition. Said Chase: "Every artist should be showcased. There's plenty of people in the world to appreciate it."

tricia.bishop@baltsun.com