Hanover Settles On Vendor Rules
Hanover — The Selectboard has agreed to allow downtown street vendors the chance to renew their prime spots before they are offered to newcomers, a provision the merchants say is critical to their success.
Board members voted 4-1 on Monday to give three vendors right of first refusal on their locations outside of Town Hall, which are considered the best in town. The spots were previously given out on a first come, first served basis each year.
The change to the street vending ordinance has yet to take effect, however, as the board must first approve specific language that Town Manager Julia Griffin said she would present at a later meeting.
Griffin noted at Monday’s meeting that there has been little to no competition for these spots, making the discussion “academic” for the moment. The vendors pay $1,200 for nine-month placements, which they renew in November.
Selectboard Chairman Peter Christie was the lone dissenting vote, according to a video recording of Monday night’s public hearing. During that meeting, he asked vendors who testified before the board how they would address the issue of fairness in assigning placements.
“Obviously, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t in my best interest,” Rod Swain, the merchant who proposed the ordinance change, told Christie at the hearing. “But it’s also in the interest of the town, because I do advertise outside of Hanover to bring people into Hanover.”
Swain’s business, Simple Elegance Silver, advertises as far as Burlington and Barre, Vt., he said, and he tells potential customers to look for him by Molly’s Restaurant, which is next to Town Hall. Swain contended that if another vendor claimed the spot he has occupied for six years, he could lose a significant amount of business.
“As far as the fairness,” Swain said, “I see what you’re saying: everybody should have a right to the spot if they want it, I understand your point on that, but … from my point of view, it’s better for me, and I think I can make the case that it’s better for the town also.”
Robin Ng, who began vending alongside Swain this year, said the benefits to the town go beyond extra foot traffic.
“One of the benefits of knowing who you’re going to have each year is … you do have now proven vendors who care about presenting a good face on Hanover,” she said at the hearing. “We act as a first line of defense in some ways.”
Beyond tidying up the plaza, giving directions and greeting downtown shoppers, Ng said, she had called the police a few times when she saw something untoward happening.
“We answer a lot of questions and we do it pleasantly,” she said. “I can’t stress that enough: I am huge on public service. You have a lot of vendors out there that have a smile on their face and are glad to help.”
As the 80-minute discussion wore on, Selectwoman Joanna Whitcomb said she had taken a “180-degree” turn in her thinking, and now supported the vendors’ proposal. She compared the vendors’ permit fees to the leases that store owners pay — leases that are generally renewed at their conclusion, rather than put up for grabs to the public.
Griffin pointed out that the vendors in question occupy public land, not private property.
Selectman Bill Geraghty proposed a compromise. The vendors could secure 2-year placements, he said, and if there were competition at the end of those terms, the spots would go up for a lottery. That arrangement would give merchants time for business planning while keeping things fair for new vendors, he said.
But a motion to implement his idea failed, 3-2, with board members Whitcomb, Nancy Carter and Athos Rassias opposing.
Shortly afterward, the board voted to grant the right of first refusal to vendors.
“We’re very happy,” Ng said in an interview Wednesday at her stand. “We’re still a little stunned. It restored my faith in the political process.”
The board later voted unanimously to remove from the ordinance a section that suspended vendors’ permits during street fairs. The provision had allowed vendors to continue selling during those days only if they made arrangements with the fair organizers, which typically involved paying a fee to help cover the event costs.
Finally, board members asked Griffin to come up with potential changes that would allow the town to reject vendors’ permit applications or choose not to renew them.
Griffin said she would work on that language, but that some parts of the addition would be complex, as constitutional restrictions on government regulation could come into play.
“What if someone wants to be a pornographic book vendor?” she asked. “What are we going to do? It’s a First Amendment right.”
“Don’t get any ideas over there,” a board member told the vendors, to general laughter.
The Hanover Selectboard’s next meeting is scheduled for Nov. 2.
Rob Wolfe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3242.