Taking it to the streets

Taking it to the streets

PORTLAND, Ore. -  On various days, you can find Stan "The Man" Hubbard hawking dreamcatchers in the parking lot of a northeast Portland discount dry cleaner.

“I do well with them,” said the longtime Portlander, who makes them with recycled bicycle tires and earns between $95 to $175 a pop.

For him, it's a way to make money in retirement. For others who take their wares to the streets for sidewalk shoppers, it offers extra cash for the family or money for school.

“People are beginning to see this is a good business model,” said Liam Nagy, a city engineer trainee who manages Portland’s sidewalk vendor application process.

Indeed, sidewalk vendor permits were already 30 percent above those issued in all of last year, with 25 applications so far this year compared to 19 in 2008.

“And we’ve been getting a lot of new inquiries,” Nagy said. “…They may be up due to economy reasons.”

But sidewalk vendor permits are only a small part of the picture. Others, like Hubbard, are setting up shop in retail parking lots with permission or opening restaurant kiosks, peddling wares by foot or truck or simply going yard-sale style in their front yards. Those types of businesses don't need a street vending permit.

Rules to sell by

Whatever the outdoor venue, here are a few of the rules to sell by:

  • To legally sell on a sidewalk in Portland, the sale must last less than two hours or you must obtain a sidewalk vendor permit from Portland’s Transportation Department. Permits cost $60 for the application, $75 for the final site/cart permit; applicants must have insurance.
  • Get permission from adjacent property owners. The City of Portland needs this to grant a sidewalk vendor permit. You’ll need it to legally set up shop on any other private property.
  • You'll need an extra food service license unless you are selling certain exempt food items. That list includes bottled or canned drinks, drip coffee or hot water with packaged mixers, shelf-stable confections, commercially pickled products, commercially packaged items like ice cream, nuts, crackers or jerky, and other non-perishables. Whole fruit or vegetables also are exempt.

“To sell anything else you’ll need a mobile unit food service license, good for a calendar year but inspected every six months,” said Jon Kawaguchi, environmental health supervisor for Multnomah County Environmental Health. But here’s a bonus: “With a mobile unit license from us you’re then approved to operate through the state,” Kawaguchi said. “You still have to operate in an area properly zoned for retail, but you can travel from county to county as long as you return home at night.”

One-day mobile unit licenses, for events like Cinco de Mayo, are $120 in Multnomah County. A 30-day license is $160. Food handler certification ($10 per person) also would be required.

Nearly 400 food carts now operating

“There’s been a lot of interest lately on the mobile units in the past couple of months, especially in parking lots with the food-court environment,” Kawaguchi said. Nearly 400 food carts now are permitted in the county.

“Even with this economy, the number of restaurants and mobile units that are applying for plan review has remained constantly growing,” he said. “If there is a restaurant cart that’s closed there are people who drive by and say, ‘You know, I’m going to try my hand at running a food cart.’ And there are people who are doing this because they’re out of work.”

No license needed for small-time flower peddlers

If that all sounds like too much of a hassle, an arguably easier way to make money is to sell cut flowers. If your garden has a bounty, cut and tie the flowers or herbs unless you're applying for a state Nursery Stock Growers license.

“If you’re selling more than $250 worth of rooted plants (or plant parts that form roots) in a year you will need a license,” said Gary McAninch, manager for nursery licensing at the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “But people on the sidewalk selling cut flowers do not need a nursery license with the state of Oregon.”

Nursery licenses cost $122 for sales up to $20,000 and rise from there. Non-profit organizations can apply for a $5 temporary license selling rooted plant materials good for up to seven days.

Income must be reported

Hope to make bank on your outdoor sales venture? In Multnomah County, those making $50,000 or more need a business license from the county's Department of Revenue. Cost for this county’s license is 2.2 percent of net business income, with a minimum annual tax of $100. Each county or city determines its own income exemption and business license fees.

Then, of course, “it’s up to the individual selling their wares to report that income on their personal income tax returns,” said Derrick Gasperini at Oregon’s Department of Revenue. “With the I.R.S., and with us, it’s just classified as self-employed income — different from investment or royalty incomes.” The state does not differentiate street vendor income from other self-employment earnings.

It's clear there are plenty of rules and regulations. But street vendors have a freedom that others don't enjoy.

Hubbard said his self-made job selling dreamcatchers, sand paintings, kachina dolls, decoupage art and tapestries has taken him all over the country.

"With this work, I can go where the sun is shining," he said.


City of Portland sidewalk vendor requirements

Sidewalk Vending Application packet

Oregon Department of Agriculture Nursery Stock Growers license

An overview of business license and tax requirements by city and county

Take the Multnomah County food handler test