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North Myrtle Beach responds to federal lawsuit filed by Cherry Grove business

North Myrtle Beach City Hall

North Myrtle Beach City Hall. File/Richard Caines/Staff

NORTH MYRTLE BEACH — The city has responded to a federal lawsuit filed by a Cherry Grove business, alleging that the beach equipment provider has turned its “ongoing” ordinance “violations” into a marketing tactic.

Cherry Grove Beach Gear filed a 20-page federal lawsuit on July 11 that claimed North Myrtle Beach officials “unlawfully” targeted the business through a June 29 ordinance amendment and additionally sought to place a monopoly on the rentals of beach chairs and umbrellas on the city’s 9-mile shoreline.

On June 29, city council amended an existing ordinance that prohibits businesses or people, regardless of the time, from renting, setting up or delivering any beach equipment from public beaches in the city. However, business owners can make arrangements to deliver the items to homes, rental units or at the end of beach accesses.

City officials said prohibiting the delivery and set up of equipment on the beach is a “proper exercise” given to it by state law “to adopt measures for advancing the safety and enjoyment of the millions of people who annually visit the city’s beaches.” City council passed an ordinance in 1990 that “prohibits any person from engaging in the sale, lease or rent of any goods or other property upon the public beaches unless he or she has been granted a franchise.”

“Other beach equipment companies comply with the law by delivering items to where their customers are staying,” the city said in its response. "But (Cherry Grove Beach Gear) don’t like the law, so they refuse to comply with it.”

Cherry Grove Beach Gear said in the pending lawsuit that it has operated legally within the city limits since 2019 with a valid business license while paying both local accommodations and hospitality taxes imposed by city council. According to the lawsuit, officials allegedly had no issues with the owners setting up rentals on the beach; their only concern was the safety of the company putting up umbrellas.

But the city said in its response that since April the business has “known that city law prohibits delivery and set up of sold or rented beach equipment.” Allegedly, Beach Patrol Manager Munro Reed at the time noticed chairs and umbrellas set up with signs touting Cherry Grove Beach Gear.

Reed allegedly contacted the business owner, who admitted that he set up the rentals while he was told the practice was not allowed under city code. The owner, according to the response, “apologized” and asked if he could remove the various items.

“Mr. Reed accepted this resolution of the problem,” court documents said.

However, the city’s response said the business continued with its practice, additionally “gleefully” announcing each fine it received on social media under the hashtag #outlawbeachlife and asking the public to chip in for the fines they are receiving.

A GoFundMe for the business has brought in more than $6,000 to counter the daily fines it said it has received for operating.

Cherry Grove Beach Gear’s July lawsuit said the daily citations are factors city council could use to revoke its business license, thereby putting them out of business.

“If (the city’s) illegal and wrongful decision to target (Cherry Grove Beach Gear) and adopt North Myrtle Beach City Ordinance 5-24 is not reversed, (the city’s) actions will have resulted in a permanent taking of (Cherry Grove Beach Gear) and a substantial loss of the owners’ investments,” the lawsuit said.

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Follow Richard Caines on Twitter at @rickcaines