CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Charleston City Council approved the first reading of an ordinance that would ban businesses in the Central Business District from handing out free samples. The district spans King Street from Line Street to Broad Street.
It also including similar portions of Meeting Street and all of North and South Market Streets. Samples would include food, drinks and non-consumable products.
The ordinance came out of the license committee, however the decision was not unanimous. Proponents say the ordinance is about safety. They say employees trying to approach potential customers creates congestion on sidewalks and forces some people to step into the streets in an effort to avoid harassment.
Meg Thompson is the Director of Business & Neighborhood Services. She spoke at the license committee meeting on Monday. She says the free samples are bad for business.
“I will say that the vendors that do participate in this sampling are often perceived as aggressive,” Thompson said. “You get complaints from their business neighbors or patrons saying they no longer feel comfortable walking, and feel like they have to cross the street to avoid this aggressive behavior.”
Alicia King is the general manager of Market Street Sweets, known for handing out samples of their signature pralines.
She says her employees are not aggressive and limiting samples could hurt business.
“We give out the samples so the customers out on the street can know what we are selling and the taste of the sample and that brings them in,” Kings said. “It helps us a lot with business. Because of COVID, everything has been slow. By letting [customers] sample it first, it gives them a little treat of our pralines and then they come in and bring us business.”
The ordinance only applies to businesses that give out samples on the sidewalk. Market Street Sweets may not be impacted because they hand out samples just inside their doors.
The biggest impacts would hit businesses handing out cosmetics and products like soap.
Noar is the manager of Soap Stories on King Street. He says the free samples are key to their business model. He also says the ordinance is discriminatory because it would not impact street sellers, like those selling roses.
“They’re selling in the streets. I am paying $20,000 in rent and I am not allowed to hand out samples,” Noar asks. “So maybe I close the store and I bring my employees to the street and we start to sell on the street.”
Several city council members spoke out against the ordinance. One of them was Karl Brady.
“With the businesses on King Street struggling, I really struggle to vote in favor of something that is going to limit the foot traffic going into a store,” Brady said.
Mayor John Tecklenburg says aggressive sales tactics have been a problem since before he took office. He is open to a “major amendment” but would like to see the council take substantive action.
Council members voting against the ordinance were Kevin Shealy, Harry Griffin, Brady and Carol Jackson. The ordinance will need additional readings before it is approved.