Thursday, June 12, 2008

'Not business friendly' Post #10 - if you don't like the law, close your business

The Convenience Store Licensing Law just keeps more onerous the more it gets explained.

As pointed out earlier, the law applies to more than just convenience stores. Coffee shops, ice cream parlors, health food stores - any retail business that sells food or beverages for home consumption and is smaller than 5,000 square feet are required to obtain a license to operate, install 24/7 cameras (of a certain quality), and monitor and prevent criminal activity on their property.

The law was 'intended' to help the city when they have trouble at places that sell alcohol when the state liquor control board allows them to keep their liquor license over objections from neighbors. That the state board might be following the law when making such decisions is completely beside the point. Some of the community development corporations (CDCs) don't like convenience stores and they think that if the store goes away, so will the people who do illegal things on or near the property. Yes, if you take away their source of alcohol, such people will no longer drink. If you close down the corner store, a prostitute will not longer offer her body for sale. You get the point.

As this was the whole point of the ordinance, why does it apply to ice cream parlors, gas stations, coffee shops and all the other types of businesses? Either it was intentional in order to get more money for the city, or it was extremely incompetent in that council didn't understand the ramifications of what they were doing. Both explanations are bad.

But that's not the worst of this. I thought that sending letters to convenience stores telling them they had to follow the law despite an agreement to not start enforcing the ordinance during the settlement phase of the lawsuit was pretty awful. But they sent the letters to stores over 5,000 square feet - so that was pretty bad as well. But their response to the temporary restraining order takes the cake.

The Midwest Retailers Association makes a claim of 'involuntary servitude' as one of their objections to the law. It's an interesting claim. Midwest explains that the law creates this condition “by transferring to selected business owners duties and responsibilities traditionally reserved for law enforcement personnel.” The law requires owners to 'stop' certain criminal activities that are happening on their property and if, despite their best efforts, the activity continues, they lose their license. Seems pretty clear that this is the job of the police.

The city, in their response, says that "not every situation in which an individual faces a choice between labor or legal sanction constitutes involuntary servitude." In fact, they liken the outcome of this law to certain scholarship recipients who do not perform their agreed upon public service upon completion of their schooling. That this was a contract willingly entered into by both parties - and is now being breached by one of them - must have completely escaped those fine legal minds in Government Center.

But it gets worse. Here is the city's conclusion on the claim of involuntary servitude:

Moreover, Midwest’s members have alternatives to performing the actions that the Ordinance requires. Midwest’s members can choose not to operate a convenience store to avoid the Ordinance. Midwest’s members can choose to alter the nature of their business by expanding to more than 5000 square feet or discontinue selling food and beverages for home consumption. Although these choices may not be appealing to Midwest’s members, this fact does not make the actions required under the Ordinance voluntary servitude.

Yep...the city says if you don't like the law, don't have such a business...or expand until it no longer applies to you. Like any business being faced with such a choice is going to even want to expand in this city!

When it comes to the cameras, the 'logic' is the same:

"Midwest’s members are free to use the cameras in any manner. If a member removes an installed high-resolution camera and he wants to continue operating the convenience store, he must replace the subject high-resolution camera with another. However, if a member does not want to continue operating the convenience store, no replacement is necessary."

Yep ... if you don't want to comply with the law, go out of business.

The arrogance and anti-business nature of these pleadings is astounding. Toledo is a city that is losing population and businesses and is raising fees and taxes. It's creating licensing laws and registration fees that drive businesses - and their owners - out of the city. What a wonderful environment!

To expect that a viable option to an onerous and disgusting law is to close up a business - just boggles my mind. Whatever happened to the concept of small businesses being the backbone of our economy? These convenience stores are primarily owned by families in the area and they've hired some non-family members to help with the operations. Aren't these the types of companies we want??? Why would the only other solution to a costly, and maybe unconstitutional, law be to suggest that they go out of business? Some would say that convenience stores are not the 'right' type of business to have in the city. But, considering the current economic condition of the city, can we really afford to drive anyone away? And just because some people don't like the businesses doesn't mean that everyone wants them gone. They obviously have a good customer base or they wouldn't still be in business!

This is certainly not business-friendly and I do hope that the Midwest Retailers Association prevails in their lawsuit as it would be the best thing for the Toledo. And it might finally send a message to our elected officials that they need to get out of being 'stuck on stupid.'

3 comments:

Tim Higgins said...

Maggie,

I hate to have to admit it, but I eat drive through lane cheeseburger and both Chinese food and Pizza that is delivered to my home for consumption (OK, and sometimes a bucket of chicken too). Did all of these business owners get the letter as well?

If this law has any legs on it, I am going to quit my present job and go into the business of selling and installing hi-res video cameras. This may be the only real growth industry in Toledo.

Tami N. said...

Tim

You might have something there. The law is for those places that sell food for consumption in the home. Maybe one can argue that the food is for consumption in the car...hmmm

Carol said...

This is the most disgusting piece of legislation to come down the pike in a long time.

This administration needs to make up it's mind. Is Toledo so "flush" that it can afford to send small businesses packing? If so, then reduce my city income tax!

Is Toledo doing so well that it can afford to cater to a select group (the CDCs) who spend most of their time trying to come up with some cause or another in order to justify the next years funding?

The convenience store ordinance, the vacant house ordinance and the land contract ordinance. ALL of them instigated and promoted by the CDCs.

It is about time that the administration took its' head out of it's collective asses and realized that they will soon be the captains of a sinking ship that cannot be raised.

Well, at least I managed to thin out some more stuff today so there won't be as full a load on the moving truck. The thrill of relocating to an area that has 4% unemployment and consistently brings in jobs (often >300 at a time) is almost unbearable. I can't wait to head out with the dogs and my hubby.

Will the last person leaving Toledo please turn out the lights....

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