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Ordinance Change In Marion Could Stop Peddlers at Big Festival Events

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MARION, Iowa - Thousands of visitors flock to events like the Swamp Fox Festival and Marion by Moonlight every year. And members of the Marion City Council should take the first step Thursday night to rein in one particular problem with vendors.

City Park on the square in downtown Marion is the site for most of the city's festival-type events that draw big crowds. Vendors who sell food, drinks, crafts and other things pay a fee to get a spot inside along with the crowds. But last year, a vendor set up on the sidewalk in competition with the sponsored event. That's what the city plans to control with a change to the city's peddler's license ordinance.

Organizers that put on events, like the Arts Festival that draws 13,000 to 15,000 on a single day, charge vendors fees from $100 on up to set up in a prime location. Sponsors also insist vendors have insurance and current health inspections, if necessary. Those who follow the rules don't care to compete with those who don't.

Debbie Wright, who operates the Wright Touch catering and baking business with her husband, puts herself in that group. She's planning to sell at a number of Marion events this year.

"There are rules and regulations that apply to all of these events, so I would say if you want to get involved, you need to go to the organizer," Wright said.

The sidewalk vendor involved in the one incident at a Marion festival last year did have a valid peddler's license from the city. But he didn't pay to participate with the other vendors inside the event itself at City Park. The ordinance change, up for council consideration, would prohibit any selling on public sidewalks around only City Park during events.

City leaders and event sponsors said it's not a huge deal. But doing something now, before the festival season starts, could prevent future problems.

Marion City Manager Lon Pluckhahn said "it revealed a weakness in a current ordinance that could have turned into something big. So we thought, let's tweak the ordinance and tighten it up a little bit."

Marion Chamber of Commerce President Jill Ackerman said her organization sponsors several large public events in Marion every year. She too thinks moving street peddlers away from the crowd and controlled vendors is a good idea.

"It only applies when the park is rented, so it just seems like good common sense," Ackerman said.

Ackerman said having a way to better control those who sell food and other items during festivals will allow sponsors to make sure vendors meet minimum standards.

The change to the Marion peddler's ordinance must pass three readings of the council.

The first event where it might take effect is the Marion Arts Festival, set to begin May 19th.

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