Snowball stand given the cold shoulder


Madeleine Rubin-Knoll thought she had a cool idea for earning a few extra dollars this summer: Sell snowballs in downtown Annapolis.

But after six weeks of fighting City Hall, the 46-year-old day care provider's entrepreneurial dream is melting in the heat of stringent regulations that govern the Historic District.

She can't operate without a peddler's license, but peddlers are forbidden in the Historic District, except for food carts in industrial zones. But there are no industrial zones in the Historic District.

The City Council told Ms. Rubin-Knoll and her friend, Neal Jacobs, to apply for a peddler's license and then appeal if they were denied.

"Maybe I was too idealistic," she said.

Ms. Rubin-Knoll rented a snowball machine, bought a freezer and red aprons for herself and her children, and put up her table and umbrella outside her mother's house on Francis Street on Memorial Day.

But in an area where aluminum siding is taboo and where government approval is required to install awnings, her stand had as much chance as, say, a snowball in Hades. She was open for business only a few hours when a police office asked to see her peddler's license.

When she said she didn't have one, he advised her to close.

The next day, Ms. Rubin-Knoll went to City Hall and asked for a peddler's permit, but planning officials told her she couldn't sell snowballs in the Historic District.

She looked for other places to sell her snowballs, without success. She offered to give them away and ask for donations. She even offered to give part of the proceeds to charity.

When all else failed, she and Mr. Jacobs appealed to the City Council Monday.

"At first I felt I was so happy I'm in America and a little guy like me could go talk to the government and get some relief," said Mr. Jacobs, a pharmacist who lives in Laurel. "But then I realized they weren't listening."

The snowball fight is the latest round in the dispute between downtown merchants and historic preservationists. In the past, the city has fought against a yogurt shop, a Spiderman sign and neon lights.

"We've got people who want to come in with hot dog carts and snowball carts," said Alderman Louise Hammond, a Democrat who represents downtown. "It would give us a circus atmosphere."

L Some residents and visitors on Main Street yesterday agreed.

"I think it would detract," said Eric Mashlan, 27, a downtown resident. "We've got enough shops."

Terry Moore, the owner of Easy Street, a gift shop next to where Ms. Rubin-Knoll wanted to operate her snowball stand, was ambivalent. He said the stand didn't bother him, and he even offered to help provide change for its customers. But he said he understood the city's desire to regulate it.

"I do see the city's point of having to keep out 20 carts and hot dog vendors," he said.

The arguments about preserving the historic ambience don't mean much to those who would like to see a snowball stand.

"I think it would be good in the summer because people are normally hot outside," said 7-year-old Denzel Wimbush of Beltsville, who was visiting Annapolis with his mother and grandmother yesterday.

Cecelia Reumont, who sat on a bench on Main Street near the snowball stand site, said she is rooting for Ms. Rubin-Knoll. "I wish people would stop being so ignorant. What people do is their business," she said.

Ms. Reumont, scoffed at the idea that the stand would detract from the historic atmosphere.

"Yes, indeedy," she said. "I'm for it as long as they've got my favorite flavor -- grape or pineapple."

Scott McGill, who was walking his dog, Norman, downtown at midday, said he wouldn't oppose a snowball stand in the Historic District.

As the dog stood panting in the heat, Mr. McGill said, "Norman doesn't have much to say, but I'm sure he'd go for a snowball, too."

With the summer half over, Ms. Rubin-Knoll is not optimistic about ever opening her stand. She refuses to apply for a peddler's license because she doesn't believe she needs one. And she figures that applying for the license would be a waste of time anyway, since the city attorney has told her she wouldn't get one.

She has returned the freezer and the snowball maker but is stuck with a refrigerator full of cherry, lime, root beer, chocolate, lemon and pina colada syrup.

She says the whole experience has left her bitter about government. "How can you tell your kids to be fair when the world isn't fair?" she said.

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