HANFORD – Going forward, the dozens of for-profit vendors who come to downtown Hanford's Thursday Night Market Place will have to pay business license fees to the city, according to city officials.
That has officials at Main Street Hanford, the nonprofit downtown promotion organization that runs the Market Place, worried that vendors will be scared away.
Vendors haven't been required to pay the fees "for the last 16 years," according to Shelly Johnson, executive director of Main Street Hanford.
"I don't know if it will dissuade any of our vendors from coming out or not," she said. "It may."
Johnson said she's not sure how much vendors will have to pay.
Hanford City Manager Darrel Pyle said Hanford's municipal code requires business licenses for anybody operating a for-profit enterprise in city limits.
Pyle said it was an oversight that the code wasn't being enforced for Market Place vendors.
He estimated that most vendors would end up paying less than $50 a year.
Pyle said vendors might be able to pay less than the annual fee if they only operate in Hanford for a few months out of the year.
He said he didn't realize vendors at the Market Place weren't all paying the fee until he received an inquiry about it from somebody in a "neighboring community."
Pyle said that when he asked Johnson, she informed him that vendors haven't been required to do so.
Pyle said there are "very few exceptions" to the license fee requirement. He said the requirement extends to mobile food trucks and roadside stands.
Pyle said he's not sure what the compliance rate is locally.
According to Hanford City Attorney Ty Mizote, there is an exemption that applies to charities that raise money solely for charitable purposes.
Mizote said the exemption would apply to the operating permit fee Main Street Hanford collects from Market Place vendors.
The fees are Main Street Hanford's single biggest source of revenue, according to Johnson.
Mizote said the exemption applies to nonprofit groups who get a space at the Market Place to raise money for their organizations.
Steve Banister, a member of Main Street Hanford's board of directors, expressed concern that requiring all vendors to have business licenses could drive some away and prevent others from coming.
Banister said there are ambiguities in the application process that could make it challenging for vendors to navigate.
"It might be a little intimidating for people who are just coming out once a week," he said.
Other Main Street organizations running farmer's markets have worked out compromise arrangements with leaders in their cities.
Julia Truilo, executive director of Ormond Beach MainStreet in Florida, told Ormond Beach leaders that the policy of requiring every vendor to have a license was "preventing me from getting vendors that were necessary for the health of the market."
Truilo said the upshot was that her organization was able to obtain an overarching business license that covered all the vendors.
Suzy Moyd, executive director of Main Street Hartsville, in North Carolina, said she goes to the Hartsville City Council every year to ask for an exception for her farmer's market vendors.
"It always passes," she said.
Pyle said that in order for such accommodations to happen in Hanford, the city's municipal code would have to be amended to reflect the new approach.
"Right now, somebody is going to have to propose something different," he said.