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Regulating Roadside Vendors


Opponents of an Anne Arundel County Council bill that would regulate roadside vendors would have us believe it will prevent us from buying a fresh peach at a roadside stand ever again. They're as paranoid about this fairly innocuous piece of legislation as gun enthusiasts are about waiting periods; the most minor regulation looks like a conspiracy to put them out of business. In fact, the bill, sponsored by Councilman James E. "Ed" DeGrange, only asks roadside vendors to fulfill the same basic requirements as every other commercial enterprise.

Roadside vendors now are totally unregulated. They are the only type of business that can ignore commercial zoning restrictions and avoid health inspections. Trucks full of Oriental rugs, giant stuffed animals and velvet Elvis paintings drive in from out of state and set up camp wherever they want, whether it be a dangerous intersection or someone's front yard. Watermen hawking seafood may be one of summer's most welcome sights, but the sale of unregulated fish poses a health risk. Technically, seafood vendors fall under state health requirements, but they're virtually never inspected since there's no record of their existence.

Under the bill, roadside vendors would pay the same license fee ($25 a day, $250 a year) as snowball stands, ice cream trucks and door-to-door salesmen. They would be limited to commercial areas. And health officials would inspect food vendors -- except for people selling produce grown on their own land. They are exempt.

To people unused to any regulation whatsoever, these rules no doubt are a nuisance. But they're hardly burdensome enough to violate one's right to earn a living, as opponents claim. Snowball stands -- which make less money than most roadside vendors -- live with them. Seafood vendors have a legitimate concern about where they could sell in South County, where commercial zoning is scarce. But the councilman in that district is working on that dilemma.

No one wants to force roadside vendors out of business. The seafood hawker and produce stands are wonderful parts of local culture. Who doesn't like picking up a bushel of live crabs at a good price? But roadside vendors are businesses. They shouldn't expect to be exempted from consumer safety standards and zoning restrictions that apply to every other commercial venture.

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