King Street small business holiday shopping (copy)

King Street in downtown Charleston. 

Wade Spees/Staff

City officials are right to crack down on high-pressure salespeople working the sidewalks of King Street.

It cheapens the experience of strolling and browsing in the heart of the historic city, making it seem more like a carnival midway or a generic suburban shopping mall. And while it might bump up commissions or help merchants pay the rent, it is ultimately bad for business as a whole.

A woman from Portland, Maine, recently told Post and Courier reporter Dave Munday she stepped inside a skin-care store at the invitation of saleswoman and was pitched a $1,400 package that dropped to $700, then $299, when she resisted.

“The pressure was intense,” Kathie Hooper told our reporter. “We’re well-traveled. I’ve never experienced anything like that.”

Handing out free samples or inviting customers into a store is one thing, but such high-pressure tactics are another. That’s a turnoff, and it goes against the grain of Charleston’s image as a polite, genteel city – one of its biggest draws.

A clothing store merchant next door to a businesses fined $500 in February and $1,087 last month for violating a city ordinance against aggressive solicitation said he regularly fields complaints from customers who say they now avoid his side of the street.

“It’s definitely hurt our business,” he said. “It puts a very negative, kind of grimy feeling on the street.”

Responding to recent complaints about overly aggressive sales tactics, the city’s Department of Livability and Tourism recently fined three other businesses under the city ordinance, which forbids touching a would-be customer without permission, blocking his or her path or following a person on the sidewalk. For citations to stick, a city livability officer has to witness the interaction.

If fines don’t curb the problem, attorneys for the city are considering a beefed-up ordinance that could result in the revocation of the offender’s business license after three convictions.

It shouldn’t have to come to that. But the city and its citizens have a vested interest in protecting Charleston’s charm and livability, which are at the core of what makes the city naturally inviting.

Charlestonians should speak up about business practices that threaten to undermine the city’s reputation as a place where most tourists wished they lived, worked and shopped year-round. And while it’s unfortunate when visitors have a bad experience, residents also shouldn’t be bothered by high-pressure salesmen on King Street sidewalks.