Newton won't deter sidewalk sales

Businesses in Newton can sell merchandise on the sidewalk in front of their locations — although city code hasn't officially prevented them from doing so in the recent past.

"Prior to 2007, there was action taken to allow vendors or merchants to have sidewalk sales during city events like Newtonfest or Old Soldiers Reunion," Newton Planning Director and Assistant City Manager Glenn Pattishall said, adding city code previously prohibited those sidewalk sales from occurring - except when authorized by City Council during a festival or event. "We have had several businesses in the central business district that have inquired about allowing sidewalk sales ... When we looked at the current city code, we couldn't find the section (that prohibits sidewalk sales)."

It seems, Pattishall said, that when Newton City Code was revised in 2007, the section prohibiting sidewalk sales was omitted.

"That is not in our current ordinance," he said. "It was in the old ordinance, but it is no longer there."

It won't be added any time soon after City Council voted 4-3 against revisiting city code to stop businesses from selling merchandise on sidewalks outside their storefronts.

"Having nothing is better than prohibiting it," said Newton Mayor Robert Mullinax. "We are in a tough time, and we are trying to help folks. I don't see much going on down there as far as folks out trying to sell. I think if you bring something on the sidewalk, you are showing some initiative to market something. Let's don't make life hard for people right now."

Other council members said they thought sidewalks sales could pose a problem.

"I think it is a bad idea because you are assuming a lot of liability," said council member Mary Bess Lawing. "If people come through not paying a lot of attention, and fall and break a hip, who are they going to sue?"

She added that the sidewalk should be accessible to the public.

"I think the issue of tripping over signs — it is very overblown, and I think we need to get past that," Mullinax said. "I haven't seen anybody tripping over signs."

Currently some businesses in the city's downtown district, such as Hi-Lites, put merchandise in front of their stores. Although Hi-Lites has an enclave area at its storefront so apparel and other goods aren't in the sidewalk. Other businesses, such as Geppeto's and Dana's Fine Jewelry put signs in front of the store advertising lunch specials or sales.

"In my opinion, if you own a business in downtown Newton, you ought to be allowed to put stuff on the sidewalk any day of the year, as long as you don't have it in the walkway where anybody can trip over it and fall," Kay Carter with Dana's Fine Jewelry said, adding selling merchandise on the sidewalk is only effective if there is a lot of foot traffic. "You don't get a lot of foot traffic unless there is a festival going on. ... You don't see a lot of foot traffic (in downtown Newton) especially since the Artist's Café closed."

After a motion by Newton Council member Tom Rowe, Newton City Council voted 3-3 on a measure to prohibit sidewalk sales at times other than festivals and special events. Rowe, Lawing and Council member Bill Lutz voted to prohibit sidewalk sales, while Mayor Pro Tem Anne Stedman and council members Robert Abernethy Jr. and Wayne Dellinger were against the move to stop sidewalk sales. Mullinax broke the tie, voting against the proposal to include a section in city code to thwart sidewalk sales.