The Raleigh City Council finally passed rules allowing mobile retailers in the city Tuesday, but not without tightening the rules last minute at the insistence of council member David Cox.

This is the Raleigh City Council, after all. 

The ordinance, which has been in the works since 2016, will allow mobile retailers to operate in the city with a $50-per-site permit. Sites may host up to ten mobile retail events a year. Trailers may set up in parking areas outside businesses and can erect a six-foot A-frame-style tent. Hours of operation are restricted to between 6:30 a.m. and 11:00 p.m., unless they are within 150-feet of any residential areas, in which case they can only operate from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

The rules originally would have allowed retailers to set up at any time within the hours allowed by the city’s noise ordinance, meaning until 11:00 p.m., but Cox objected, saying he was worried about mobile retailers upsetting residents. 

While Mayor Nancy McFarlane noted that retailers are unlikely to set up in residential areas, Cox wouldn’t budge. Stores in the mall, he said, tend to close by 9:00 p.m., and mobile retailers should, too, “in order to be neighborhood-friendly, and in order to be consistent with how most retail operates.” 

The rest of the council went along with Cox’s amendment, and it passed unanimously. 

Last September, the council voted not to move forward with the ordinance after council member Kay Crowder said there didn’t seem to be any interest in legalizing mobile retail. But because the council had already been working on the rules for two years, the business that had initially applied for the text change, Pitch & Primer, had closed and couldn’t be reached ahead of the council meeting.

For small businesses, mobile retail offers a way to grow without the overhead of a brick-and-mortar store. 

The rules were resurrected after other businesses pushed back. It then went through another year of debate in committee before reaching the council Tuesday night. 

Since April, the law firm Osborn Gambale Beckley & Budd has given free legal advice to nearly five hundred people out of its Winnebago, says lawyer Justin Osborn. He doesn’t think the new rules, which require a $50 permit-per-site fee, should apply to the law firm because it gives legal advice for free. However, the ordinance does not carve out an exemption for free services like his firm’s—or like mobile banking or blood clinics.

Osborn Gambale Beckley & Budd has done thirty-six pop-ups this year at about twenty different sites. With the new rules, that would have cost $1,000. It has retained fewer than a half-dozen clients for paid services, often at a reduced price, Osborn says. 

“The fifty dollars makes it financially onerous to do what is a free legal service for the community,” Osborn told the INDY Wednesday. “It’s unfortunate that we weren’t able to work out a solution for the groups like us that want to do something nice for the community. It is concerning that maybe that will prevent other folks from doing that down the road if it’s going to have a fee associated with it and be onerous and require a permit, but it’s not going to stop us. We’re going to keep doing what we’re trying to do.” 

Contact staff writer Leigh Tauss at 

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One reply on “At Long Last, the Raleigh City Council Finally Passed a Mobile Retail Ordinance”

  1. It’s unlikely that great hordes of Raleigh folks have been missing scattered mobile retail, when we already have it at two or three thriving flea markets, in particular at the weekly State Fair grounds flea market.

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