Modesto Bee Investigator: Mini-stands selling flowers, gifts might be legal ... or might not

snowicki@modbee.comMay 11, 2014 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textSue Nowicki
    Title: Columnist, Faith & Family reporter
    Coverage areas: Weekly consumer column, plus features and news stories
    Bio: Sue Nowicki has worked at The Bee since 1982. She earned a Bachelor of Journalism degree from The University of Missouri, Columbia, and enjoys answering readers' questions and telling their stories.
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    E-mail: snowicki@modbee.com

— Here’s a timely issue: We’ve all seen those temporary stands pop up before some holidays such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. They’re selling flowers or stuffed animals or other gifts, and they disappear after the holiday ends.

Betty Gay of Modesto has a question about them: “Have you written anything about whether it’s legal or not to set up a storefront in a parking lot to sell goods? I noticed this past Valentine’s Day that there were several places around town where someone just set up a pop-up canopy and a table to sell the goods they made. Does the city require a permit to do this?”

Yes, there are regulations covering those vendors. Oh, yes indeed, there are.

I checked with Modesto, Ceres, Turlock and Oakdale to get a random sampling, and they have similar municipal codes in place. But there are some quirks. For example, what if you are an ice cream vendor going around in an ice cream truck with that annoying music? Or what if you are part of a seasonal farmers market group? Or a seller at a craft fair?

If you are doing business without a specific location in town, you probably need an “itinerant vendor” permit.

This could include the kind of temporary stands Betty is talking about, but most of those require a temporary use permit, or TUP, instead.

For example, Patrick Kelly, Modesto’s planning manager, said the municipal code “does make provision for seasonal outdoor sales and activities, for example, for Christmas tree sales, pumpkins, etc.” Otherwise, the code states, “Outdoor display or sale of any items on vacant or unimproved land is prohibited.” The code also explains, “The regulations that follow are based on the premise that the visual clutter of outdoor sales and activities on an ongoing basis is not the desired visual community character of the City of Modesto.”

There is a chance you could get a temporary license to sell your holiday goods outdoors, Kelly said, but “you have to come in with a plan to show it meets all our site and other requirements. You can’t set one up overnight.” Costs for those permits run from $10 to $350, depending on the type.

If you set a stand up without a permit, you are “subject to citation if it’s perpetuated over a long period of time,” he added. And if you want to file a complaint about a vendor operating without a permit, contact Feliciano Ortega at the city’s business license enforcement at (209) 652-0635; the Neighborhood Protection Unit at (209) 577-5250; or John Wohler of the Modesto Police Department’s Crime Reduction Team at (209) 534-9209.

In Ceres, newly named City Manager Toby Wells said a TUP is required for those temporary stands, which are limited to local nonprofit organizations. Individuals are not allowed to set them up. There are additional limitations as to the number of times per year the stands can be set up, and a few other safety-related requirements. The “ordinance is applicable year-round, not specific to any particular holiday,” he said.

Fireworks stands, he noted, are covered by the city’s fire marshal and are a different matter. That’s true in the other cities, as well.

In Oakdale, administrative assistant Colleen Andersen said TUPs cost $150 and must include a completed application and permission from the property owner. Unlike Ceres, she said, “there’s no requirement as to who can do this. We have one gentleman who has a couple of stands around Valentine’s Day with flowers, flower arrangements, gift stuff.” She said the city hasn’t had any complaints about such stands.

In Turlock, City Manager Roy Wasden said there is a temporary permitting process that would cover a stand that is open for a short time, say three to five days. The problem, he said, is that many of those types of stands get set up just outside the city limits; otherwise, the city’s code enforcement folks could resolve any complaints.

Actually, Turlock has done something to streamline the temporary stands that sell only flowers before holidays. Because getting an itinerant vendor permit takes quite a while and is intended for one-year periods, the city came up with a shorter permit for temporary flower stands, said police Lt. Nino Amirfar. These permits still require a business license, but not the full process necessary for an itinerant vendor. The latter have permits good for one year, he said; the flower sales permit is good for only a specified short period of time. Both carry an application fee of $52, but the longer permits also require a fingerprinting fee for background checks.

The streamlined service has “worked well,” Amirfar said, except some people try to “take it to the limit” and include stuffed animals and other gift items, which are prohibited.

Other cities should take note of this system; it makes sense to me. If the process is quicker and cheaper, there should be fewer illegal vendors out there.

But really, although the Modesto city code mentions that such stands can present an unsightly clutter, they don’t seem to have created much of a problem for any of the cities surveyed. Florists or other businesses may suffer a bit, but I suspect the folks who buy those roadside wares wouldn’t buy more expensive products.

My heart goes out to the individuals manning the stands in the hot sun or during cold, windy conditions. I’ll bet they’re not making close to the minimum wage and not getting meal or other breaks, either. But that’s a different issue.

Do all those city codes mean kids can’t set up lemonade stands these days? No, I don’t think so. Guess we can check that out later this summer, if anyone is interested. I love answering your questions; keep ’em coming!

Send questions to Sue Nowicki at snowicki@modbee.com, fax to (209) 578-2207 or mail to P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.

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