Bookseller Fights Street-Vendor Ordinance

DOVER, N.H. (CN) – A used-book dealer is challenging a New Hampshire town’s ordinance aimed at protecting pedestrian safety for interfering with its ability to buy and sell books to college students.

Town councilors in Durham, home to the University of New Hampshire, unanimously approved an ordinance last month that prohibits street vendors from operating downtown. This interferes with bookstores’ ability to do book buybacks in the area, which is teeming with students. The councilors claim the buybacks take up already-limited parking spaces and pose a danger to students jaywalking or waiting in long sidewalk queues to sell back their books.

“The town’s goal is simply to ensure that vendor activity does not create safety hazards where it is taking place,” Town Administrator Todd Selig said in an email. “To this end, the town council prohibited vendor sales on certain roadways within town where safety concerns have been identified.  The ordinance does not prohibit vendor sales altogether in Durham.  There remain myriad roadways throughout the community where such activity may still take place.”

The Book Cellar, which operates two storefronts in New Hampshire, has been traveling to the University of New Hampshire to buy back textbooks since the spring of 2012. Last spring, it purchased $30,000 worth of textbooks, and UNH makes up 17 percent of its gross profits in its mobile book buyback, according to its seven-page complaint.

The bookstore claims the ordinance “reaches further than necessary and is entirely overbroad because it prohibits all street vendors or itinerant vendors all year without regard to whether other vendors present a safety problem.”

The complaint also notes that the ban is “not rationally related to reducing student jaywalking or sidewalk congestion.”

Rather than prohibiting street vendors altogether, Book Cellar suggests requiring that they have additional staff to minimize lines or hire a police detail, which would address the town’s concern without “unconstitutionally restricting Book Cellar’s commercial speech or protected conduct.”

Book Cellar says it was left scrambling after the town rejected its sidewalk vendor application last month just before UNH finals began. Claiming it has struggled to quickly find other locations that are “commercially reasonable” and visible to students, its May 9 lawsuit asks that a Strafford County judge temporarily block the new rule.

Selig said the town did issue a permit on Friday for Book Cellar to conduct vendor activity on Strafford Avenue, a much less-congested area that is still in the vicinity of the university.

Book Cellar is represented by Monica Kieser of Hoefle, Phoenix, Gorley & Roberts PA in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. She did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

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