As sure as the wildflowers blossom in early summer, when the Sisters tourist season gets underway, tents and booths start to pop up with vendors trying to sell their wares - especially at special events.
The Sisters City Council is currently trying to figure out how to regulate those vendors effectively. At a workshop last Thursday morning, the council explored several ideas and instructed staff to reach out to the community to sound out opinions.
The City of Sisters currently allows "transient merchants" under a daily permit. At the suggestion of Councilor Wendy Holzman, the City is exploring requiring any transient merchants that set up in Sisters do so only on a property with an established "brick-and-mortar" business. This would have the effect of limiting the number of vendors in town without adversely affecting the established businesses that benefit from charging vendors a fee for use of their site.
Boyd said in the workshop that most objections to transient merchants seem to revolve around scale - too many in one place.
For vendors interested in doing business more regularly in Sisters, the City is considering creating a new class of temporary business license. Such a license could apply to a food cart, a Christmas tree lot or a seasonal food stand. There are issues of compliance with Americans With Disabilities Act requirements and requirements for bathroom facilities. Mayor Brad Boyd said that such issues can be taken care of through agreements between an established businesses and a vendor. It gets trickier when a vendor is sited on an unimproved lot - and that requires more investigation, Boyd said.
The issuance of a temporary business license may obviate the City's use of the temporary-use permit (TUP), which has been a source of contention and controversy in recent years.
"It may be that the TUP will go away," Boyd told The Nugget.
That would move the matter of temporary, seasonal businesses out of the realm of land use and into a licensing context.
The City is also considering changes to how it handles vendors and special events. The council is exploring allowing "special events" to be conducted on either private or public property (currently special events are considered to occur on public property). The City is exploring a permit fee structure that would incentivize events in the off-season and/or on weekends outside established events. Under this concept, a promoter would be charged a substantial premium fee (yet to be determined) for an event scheduled to coincide with major events like the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show, the Sisters Rodeo, and the Sisters Folk Festival.
During Quilt Show this year, promoter Richard Esterman hosted the Sisters Artist Marketplace on a private lot at the corner of Cascade Avenue and Oak Street. Critics perceive the event as "piggy-backing" on the quilt show and detracting from the larger event.
Under the concept the City is exploring, if a promoter paid the premium fee and went forward with an event, the organization staging the "major" event could apply for a community grant from the City that would offset their promotional efforts to bring visitors to town - a grant that would be funded at least in part from the proceeds of the premium fee.
Boyd said that the council will await the results of staff outreach before specific proposals are crafted, vetted for legality and brought to the council for decision.