Hawking to be prohibited in downtown historic district

Tourists walk around downtown this past summer.

Tourists walk around downtown this past summer. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

It will soon be illegal to hawk goods, services, tours, or food and beverages in Juneau’s historic district.

The Juneau Assembly has approved an ordinance to prohibit commercial sales on downtown streets.  The tourism industry asked for the law.

Princess Tours spokesman Kirby Day told the Assembly Monday that hawking is on the rise in Juneau during tourist season, and he wants to nip it before it becomes a problem.

“I mean somebody walking up and down the sidewalk trying to sell a watch, saying ‘go back to my store,’ those types of things,” Day said.  

Downtown Business Association President Larry Spencer said a poll of board members indicated they were unanimous in their support for the new law, which goes into effect next month.  Spencer said sidewalk sales reduce a visitor’s experience in Juneau.

I think things are confusing enough when people get off the ship to not add another layer of tenseness to the atmosphere,” Spencer said.

And Spencer said downtown businesses hawking their wares also disturb Juneau residents.

We develop a bad reputation I think with our locals when they come downtown in the summer time,” he said.

CBJ Attorney John Hartle said the law is patterned after a Skagway ordinance that has already been upheld by the Alaska Supreme Court.

“No mobile sandwich boards, no passing out leaflets and brochures on the street, or more importantly, badgering people,” Hartle explained. “This restricts person to person effort solely intended to interest pedestrians in, or to solicit the participation of pedestrians in commercial transactions  for private profit with a business.”

Hartle said it’s difficult to draw the line between expressive speech protected by the First Amendment and commercial speech, but the key is the ability to sell another way .

Hawking

Vending booths like these would still be legal in Juneau under a recently passed ordinance prohibiting hawking on city streets. Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO.

“If someone is supporting their religious cause and they’re selling little pictures for a dollar or something like that, you just can’t prohibit it, that’s what the First Amendment is for.  But things like selling tours, the Supreme Court has said that’s commercial speech. It’s more robust.  It has money behind it,” he said.

Commercial businesses can advertise, he said.

“They’ll find another way.  They’ll go on the radio, they’ll get on the tour ships, and they’ll put up a sign.  They’ll find another way to get to those customers,” Hartle said.

The new law does not prohibit street vendors that already have city permits, unless they leave their booth and start soliciting sales on the sidewalk.  It also does not affect panhandling, which is allowed but restricted as to where, when and how it can take place.

The ordinance limits the ban on hawking to the downtown area.  The  sandwich board often seen selling furniture or pizza at McNugget intersection would not be affected.