Senate set to consider new restrictions on barkers


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ST. THOMAS - Walking down Main Street, tourist Sharyn Bennet had mixed feelings Wednesday about the many deals she was offered from one end of the street to the other.

"I personally - I don't like it. But I have no problem saying 'No,' " said Bennet, a cruise ship passenger from Minnesota.

The hottest tourist spots on St. Thomas often are rife with what some people call "barkers," though they call themselves promoters, marketers, solicitors or - the newest term - outside personal contacts.

A bill, sponsored by Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, is expected to be discussed today by the Senate's Economic Development, Agriculture and Planning Committee.

In 2006, an executive order banned barkers from the streets of downtown Charlotte Amalie, but no law banning or regulating the practice was ever passed. Gov. John deJongh Jr. submitted a proposed bill to the 29th Legislature banning the practice, but his bill was pre-empted by Malone's legislation.

Malone's bill was discussed in December before the same Senate committee, but after hours of contentious debate, the bill was held in committee for further review.

Malone could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The bill would tighten regulations on barkers, primarily those who work in the historic and downtown districts and those on the beaches.

The bill establishes that all barkers would be required to be licensed under the V.I. Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs, which would require a completed application and a $50 application fee.

Barkers would be required to produce affidavits signed by an authorized officer of the V.I. Bureau of Internal Revenue stating that the applicant has filed and paid all taxes, penalties and interest owed, according to the bill.

Under the bill, all businesses employing barkers would be required to obtain a business owner's promotion license, the first of which would cost the business $250; the second, $500; and the third, $750.

DLCA Commissioner Wayne Biggs would not be able to issue more than 12 business owner's promotion licenses on each island, according to the bill. Biggs could not be reached for comment on the bill Wednesday.

Businesses would have to be located in certain areas to acquire business owner's promotion licenses. On St. Thomas, those areas of downtown would be limited to the intersection of Raadets Gade and Dronningens Gade; all of Raadets Gade; the Dronningens Gade entrances to Trompeters Gade and Hibiscus Alley, though barkers would have to ensure that they conducted their business more than three feet away from any competing business.

"The essence is, the barkers degrade the district and take away from the experience," said Sebastiano Paiewonsky Cassinelli, president of the Chamber of Commerce. "They are such a turn-off that local consumers do not want to go to the district because they just don't want to deal with the harassment."

The bill states that "a licensee shall sign a code of ethical conduct" provided by the DLCA.

Though the bill stipulates that the code must prohibit public intoxication, violent behavior and disorderly conduct, it does not specify any further conditions.

The DLCA would enforce violations, according to the bill, which states that the department would collect written complaints, which they would categorize based on the source - tourist, resident or business competitor.

After five written complaints in one year, the department would investigate the solicitor and its employer.

Criminal penalties for violations could include fines of up to $500 and imprisonment of up to three days for the first offense, and up to $1,000 and up to seven days for the subsequent offenses.

"They're not getting complaints from the tourists. They are getting complaints from other jewelry stores," said Virginia Gay, a solicitor who works on Main Street.

Gay, who also intends to testify during the committee hearing today, said that the use of the term "barker" is insulting to her because she feels it is antiquated.

"It's so derogatory to be called that," Gay said, noting that, decades ago, barkers did yell at passersby, but modern-day barkers do not do that.

Nowadays, it is more common to see them chatting with passersby before asking whether they want a coupon to be used at their employer's store.

"These small businesses have no way of competing with the big guys," said George Rivello, also a solicitor.

Rivello has seen many bills pass through the Senate, though they never get approved, he said.

Rivello, who has been a solicitor for 12 years, said that the bills are discriminatory because taxi drivers solicit their business on any street corner, and the large businesses with stores downtown solicit their businesses via partners on the cruise ships.

"Regulate us. Don't eliminate us," Rivello said.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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