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Charleston may ban free sample distributions on sidewalks along King Street, near Market

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Charleston No Samples

Employees at Allure on King Street try to hand out samples of their products to people passing by Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. City leaders plan to discuss an ordinance that would ban food, drink or other types of samples from being distributed in the Central Business District (King Street from Line to Broad Streets) and the City Market from Horlbeck Alley to just south of Pinckney Street. Brad Nettles/Staff

Charleston may soon ban free samples on King Street and near the Market. 

City Council on Tuesday will consider an ordinance that would prohibit businesses in the central business district — King Street from Line to Broad streets and around the Market — from hawking samples to passersby on the sidewalk. 

On Monday, members of the City Council's License Committee discussed the matter. Mayor John Tecklenburg and Councilmen William Dudley Gregorie and Keith Waring supported the ban, but Councilmen Kevin Shealy and Harry Griffin were concerned it would limit businesses.

"I'm worried about putting an ordinance in effect that may have some unintended consequences," Shealy said. "From Line to Broad (streets) is a long stretch."

City attorney Janie Borden said the proposed ban is out of "interest of public safety and pedestrians" walking along narrow sidewalks in those two areas. 

"It would prohibit those activities that would cause folks to stop and gather, accumulate on the sidewalk," Borden said. 

Meg Thompson, Director of Business and Neighborhood Services, said many businesses in those two corridors support the ban because they hear complaints from patrons and former customers. 

"Vendors who do participate in the sampling are often perceived of as aggressive," Thompson said. "Patrons no longer feel safe walking and feel they have to walk across the street in order to avoid this aggressive behavior."

Members of a recently created 12-person Central Business District Improvement Commission heard the proposal last week, Thompson said. The commission was recreated to perform duties similar to one that existed in the 1990s, Thompson said. It was done at Tecklenburg's request. 

"After COVID-19 and civil unrest, he thought it was time to reform," Thompson said.

That commission has identified about 10 other issues it hopes to address, Thompson said, and will they be outlined Tuesday night. 

Lauren Ellison Fox, a member of the commission and owner of her grandmother's former Ellison Shoes on King Street, said she wishes the ordinance would allow for food and beverage sampling. 

"We know in the market that sampling of candies, cookies, that sort of thing is a major business driver for those shops," Fox said. "That's something that we didn't want to infringe upon."

Fox said it was difficult to allow certain uses and ban others. 

Councilmen were specifically worried that Hyman's Seafood would no longer be able to give out hushpuppy samples, but Thompson and Borden said the seafood restaurant on Meeting Street was technically outside the Central Business District and could continue the practice. 

"The sidewalk there on Meeting Street is considerably wider than those areas on King Street where those activities are occurring," Borden said. 

Shealy said that like Hyman's Seafood, there might be a business on King Street looking to do something similar and he doesn't want to limit businesses while they're suffering from the economic shortfalls stemming from the coronavirus pandemic and possible damage accrued from the May 30 riot. 

"I understand we need to do something about the aggressiveness with some of the vendors, but I talked to a few people today that are concerned about it," Shealy said.

Tecklenburg and Gregorie said if the ordinance does end up affecting businesses, they'd be willing to revisit the ordinance. 

City Council could give the ordinance a first reading approval when it meets Tuesday at 5 p.m. 

Reach Mikaela Porter at 843-937-5906. Follow her on Twitter @mikaelareporter. 

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