Christmas came early this past year to Atlanta’s vendors. On December 21, the Fulton County Superior Court struck down a government-created monopoly that controlled all vending on public property in Atlanta. This victory helps not only the dozens of small businesses that otherwise would have had to shut down, but entrepreneurs of all stripes across the Peach State.
IJ clients Larry Miller and Stanley Hambrick are two long-time vendors who work outside of Turner Field, where the Atlanta Braves play. Their businesses are fixtures in the community. Tens of thousands of baseball fans have bought snacks, souvenirs and Braves merchandise from Larry and Stanley on the way to a game. Through their years of hard work, Larry and Stanley have climbed up the economic ladder while creating jobs and sending their children to college.
But politicians and a private business contrived to knock the bottom rungs off that economic ladder by making it virtually impossible for Larry, Stanley and others to vend in Atlanta. In 2009, the city signed a contract with the Chicago-based mall operator General Growth Properties that gave the company “the exclusive right to occupy and use all public property vending sites throughout the City”—the first time any American city has set up such a centralized vending scheme. The first phase of the company’s program forced approximately 16 small vending businesses to close, taking with them dozens of self-supporting private-sector jobs. With their vending locations targeted as part of Phase II of the program, Larry and Stanley’s days as independent businessmen looked numbered.
Rather than accept their fate, though, Larry and Stanley fought back. Teaming up with the Institute for Justice, the two filed a lawsuit arguing that the city lacked the authority to hand out exclusive franchises to well-connected political insiders. In its December 21 ruling, the Superior Court agreed, saying that because the city law and contract creating the vending monopoly “grant the exclusive right to occupy and use all public property vending sites in the City, . . . the City exceeded the powers granted to it in [its] Charter by creating an unauthorized exclusive franchise.” The Court declared the city law and contract void and without effect.
The ruling came as a godsend to Larry and Stanley, who only one week before had received an ominous letter from the city telling them that, come 2013, they would either have to get the monopolist’s permission to vend or get out.
“Thanks to this ruling, a weight has been lifted off of my chest,” Larry said. “Now I can focus on selling my t-shirts, jerseys and boiled peanuts instead of worrying that my business will be shuttered forever.”
Larry’s sigh of relief was echoed by Stanley Hambrick, who said, “For decades, I worked hard to build a business that I hope to turn over to my youngest son someday. Atlanta’s vending monopoly threatened to destroy my family’s business, but this victory has given my dreams a new lease on life.”
This victory has done more than just knock out an anti-competitive vending scheme in one of America’s largest cities. It has shown once more that through its National Street Vending Initiative, IJ is the nation’s leading advocate for the rights of vending entrepreneurs. And through our continued litigation, activism and legislative efforts, IJ will keep fighting for a simple, yet powerful, principle: That it’s the job of entrepreneurs and consumers—not the government—to decide which businesses succeed.