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Small vendor highlights rift in Fairbanks

Posted: Friday, June 15, 2007

FAIRBANKS - Tucked into Fairbanks City Hall's law books is a rule banning street vendors from setting up for business in Golden Heart Plaza, a prime downtown civic anchor.

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The prohibition drew attention in an unusual way last week, when an 8-year-old selling hot chocolate from a wagon drew enough notice that the police were called to ask him to move across the street.

The family of the boy, Douglas Vonder Haar, was unaware of the law banning vendors from the plaza and has no problem following it, his mother, Paige Vonder Haar, said.

The strong reaction to his stand, however, highlights a rift between some downtown business owners over sidewalk vendors. Some suggested this week that the city should review its restrictions on the number of vendors allowed to sell from downtown sidewalks.

The soon-to-be third-grader and his sister had been selling snacks from a stand outside their Fourth Avenue home. They saved part of the money to donate toward research into the treatment and prevention of heart defects in children, she said.

After hearing the boy's story, the city clerk office's employees offered to pay for the boy's $25 license fee themselves. Mayor Steve Thompson immediately waived the application fee.

"An 8-year-old kid wanting to be an entrepreneur, wanting to learn the American way of doing things, I felt it was the proper thing to do," Thompson said of his decision to waive the fee. "How many 8-year-old kids do you know are out trying to do something like this? He's the type of person we need to encourage."

Paige Vonder Haar said the boy and his father, this time accompanied by Douglas' younger sister, returned Friday to the plaza but were again informed that despite the business license, no vending sales were allowed. The second trip ended with a visit by a "kind" police officer, who asked that they move, she said.

Michelle Roberts directs the nonprofit Festival Fairbanks, which maintains the plaza. She acknowledged approaching the family Thursday to inform them of the law, and said she was surprised the next day to find the boy set up there again.

"Tourists actually had to stumble over these people to get to the tour booth," Roberts said of life before the ban. Of the 8-year-old's business initiative, she said, "I think it's great he's enterprising, but I do think lemonade stands belong on neighborhood streets."



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