HOUSTON – The city loves its merchants but there is a price to pay for doing business in Houston.
The Houston Board of Aldermen discussed the process, fees and fines for those who come to town and peddle vegetables, clothes, merchandise and food at a work session last week and while no vote was taken on the measure, the board developed a direction for vendor permits.
The issue came before the board two weeks ago when Randy Brooks told aldermen he and his wife were harassed by a city employee when they opened a barbeque stand in town June 21. In a similar incident
Lula and Willie Dean were required to buy a $250 vendor permit June 14 to sell barbecue. The Deans had set up a food booth at the corner of Jackson and Harrington Street as part of a fundraiser for their sick cousin George Sparks.
“Whatever we do we need to be consistent in how we enforce this,” said Houston Mayor Stacey Parker. “The problem is not out-of-town folk – they know they need a permit. The problem is our people who want to come downtown and set up and sell something out of the back of a pickup.”
Parker said he called around to six towns to find out how they handled vendors. Some did not allow it at all, he said. Some cities charged a daily fee and most followed the state guideline that allows municipalities to charge up to $250 for a 90-day permit.
Parker pointed out the vendor fees only covered for-profit businesses and vendors who brought in produce or merchandise from outside the county.
“We have businesses who pay property taxes, have a privilege license and pay sales taxes that come back to the city,” said Parker. “They employee people, they are part of our business community and they look to us to be fair about this.”
Alderman-At-Large Barry Springer said he didn’t want to discourage any business who wanted to “test the market,” but he also felt Houston needed to reign in some vendors.
“If you have a man come in with a fancy trailer and he really wants to see if he can make it, $250 is not going to stop him,” said Springer. “I also feel we need to cut city residents a little slack if they want to sell something out of the back of their pickup.”
Springer suggested a $250 annual fee and a $100 90-day permit for local vendors.
“My concern is people who sell food and vegetables,” said Ward 1 Alderman Tony Uhiren. “I don’t think it is fair to grocery stores to let someone go to Birmingham and load up and park on the Square and tell us it is homegrown.”
Parker said the city requires all vendors to be honest about their wares and doesn’t do a background check.
Houston Town Marshall Billy Voyles said he had no problem enforcing the ordinance but needed direction on how permits were obtained and if a warning was to be given.
Aldermen said they felt police should check vendors for a permit as part of normal patrols and either ask them to move on or purchase a $250 permit. Failure to purchase a permit would prompt a $250 fine.
Parker said he had safety concerns for vendors on Highway 8 and Highway 15 and said vendors would be asked to re-locate to a safer part of The Square. He said the state does not allow vendors on state right of way or roads and that law should be enforced by the Mississippi Highway Patrol.
Parker also said legal vendors also needed the permission of the property owner to set up and sell their wares.