Here in my own city of New Orleans, on last weekend’s bright and beautiful Sunday I happened to be on site to see the closing by our police of a Mardi Gras costume bazaar .
For 20 years, costume designers have collectively set up on Frenchman Street in the weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday to sell their one-of-a-kind creations. The need to gather artists in one place, to allow for casual walk up traffic as well as those seeking out the designers and the mix of shops that might benefit from this event has made for a happy relationship with the Frenchman community. Well maybe…
This year, the New Orleans Police Department showed up and quite quickly shut it down. They cited the organizers for not getting a permit. Did a store complain? Sounds like no, that the NOPD just happened on them, But, as we know in our market world, it’s best to prepare for conflict and know what needs to happen to avoid it to keep the sales flowing. So, I assume this is the tip of it, that random stores may complain even if it benefits them and so we need to solve this issue once and for all.
For many of you in the market world, this would seem like a sensible action. Sure, you might say, you simply go to your city hall and ask them what you need to do beforehand and get it all straight…
And if you have that type of process where you live, I envy you.
What we have here is a morass of rules for some vending and not for others. When the artists that were participating in our fair trade/handmade market “Festivus, the holiday market for the rest of us” went to City Hall in the first year (2003) to register because we asked them to, they were told there was no way to register for this.
Chiefly, they were told it’s like this: if you have a storefront, you register that. If you want to vend on the street for Mardi Gras along parade routes, you can register for that. Other than that, to sell at market, especially if you do not have a storefront in Orleans Parish , well it may depend on who in city government you talk to…
In the local food system here, my organization marketumbrella.org has decided all along the way to lead rather than wait. Back in 1996, we were able to get a “fairs and festivals” ruling for our weekly farmers markets, to ask for some zoning clarification and wrote a food handling guide and submitted that to the state to make sure no one would show up telling us we were illegal. And since most of our vendors are exempt from collecting sales tax (as farmers and fishers) they were okay themselves but we continue to tell our value-added vendors to make sure they are right with city government-although again if they live outside the city, its hard to do that. That was pretty much the last time we had a formal interaction with the government- that is until the NOFD came to our markets last year and ask for new permits and fees.
Based on that issue and others we were hearing about, we wrote a grant to do research and form recommendations to the city for open-air farmers markets. We have an RFP out locally for someone to take on the policy work and then will send a RFP out to update our food handling guide.
That work should be completed over summer and we hope the city accepts our recommendations. So, we feel our artist colleagues’ pain when we see them go through a process that has parts that are still to be decided and lacks clarity from our government, as happened this Sunday.
I guess with our experience, we saw this coming to them in a way. As much as I prefer to leave entrepreneurial activity as informal as possible, when you gather collectively you probably need some systems in place. Especially in incorporated towns and cities.
And this is where my work (in the marketshare project) is mostly felt: to add capacity and to professionalize market management so the risks are mitigated.
I feel for them, those amazing artists and designers. I will do what I personally can to support their work and professionally to encourage markets to thrive in my region.