WHILE MANY OTHER great cities of the world seem to have found reasonable ways to accommodate or at least abide the commerce of street vendors -- curbside merchants -- Washington is not among them. The board of trade, while grudgingly acknowledging that certain people may find a certain charm in sales of certain items, is less than eager to encourage sidewalk enterprise. As staff writer Rudolph A. Pyatt Jr. reported the other day, the board does have understandable complaints about potentially unfair competition; but it also is seeking what could be interpreted as unfair restraints on what goods can legally be sold by any vendor.
The chief complaint -- and a sound one -- is that there are no assurances that vendors pay sales taxes, to say nothing of any other tax or fee that might relate to the property taxes and other legal overhead incurred by sedentary merchants. In addition, the city should maintain its health standards as well as restrictions against sales of paraphernalia for illegal activities (drugs) and blatantly obscene items.
But according to the report, the board's policy also would restrict vendors to selling only cut flowers, handcrafted goods and food for immediate consumption (food for thought, presumably, would still be allowable at newstands). What's wrong with plants, or trinkets or souvenirs of the city, straw baskets or pottery? For that matter, what's wrong with the possible creation of some jobs?
City officials have reorganized a task force to come up with proposals, and there is ample room for common sense to keep this mission short and amicable. Vendors have a place here; it's a matter of pinpointing it and protecting established businesses at the same time.