Cashing in on transient merchants

Leslie Silverman

Keystone is seeing an unprecedented number of transient vendors this tourist season, according to town finance officer Cassandra Ott.

“This is the first time we’ve ever had to renew a transient vendor license,” Ott said. “I have never seen any business pay the $800 more than once.”

The town charges transient vendors, those without a brick and mortar presence in the town, $800 to set up shop in the town for a month long period.

This summer that time frame was adjusted, so that any business that set up for the July 3 fireworks event could keep their booth or tent until after the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

Even with that modification, three businesses extended their stay beyond the rally, paying the $800 fee for a second time to stay into shoulder season.

“Lots of events have been canceled this year,” said Trump Shop worker Vaugh Smith, one of the three businesses that stayed on for the remainder of the season. “My next event isn’t until Arizona Bike Week, which was rescheduled to October.”

Smith, who normally lives in Arizona, has been working at a Trump Shop somewhere in the US since 2016, when he quit his job as a commercial steam boiler installer in Hawaii.

“I love this. I have more freedom doing this,” Smith said. “In the beginning we did really big motorcycle rallies, like Daytona. This year we have two booths in Keystone. With the election and the 80th Rally we have several other locations including one in Belle Fourche.”

Smith explained that the Trump Shop in Rapid City was originally planned to temporarily open for three weeks before the Sturgis rally last year, but because it’s doing so well it has “never closed.”

Smith has seen visitors in Keystone from every state, although most are from Minnesota and Colorado.

“They’re getting away from COVID and the fires,” Smith said.

Smith himself has manned a Trump Shop in 38 states.

“Even California, being pretty liberal had a good response, although I’m not likely to set up a shop in the heart of San Francisco,” he said.

Patti Moriarty, who makes her living selling Forever Rock Candles, has been a transient vendor since 2007, when her husband lost his job.

“That’s why I had to come to work,” Moriarty said. “I didn’t want to lose my house. I didn’t want to lose everything I worked for my whole life.”

So the stay at home wife, inspired by candles she would see at restaurants, created her “rock candles” which are candles that burn on oil that is embedded into a rock.

“A lot of people like these,” she said of her candles. “It’s an unusual item and people like it.”

Moriarty has rocks from all over the world including many Black Hills rocks.

“When I come up here I also buy rocks from the rock vendors,” she said. “I got friendly with one of the rock people.”

It was that relationship that helped prompt Moriarty to locate in Keystone “permanently” for the summer. Moriarty normally attends 48 events every year.

Her season stopped in March when COVID hit. Since she has been a vendor at the Buffalo Roundup for years, Moriarty decided to come to the Hills early.

“I usually go to Colorado every single summer. I’ve been doing that for the last 10 years,” she said. “I work at the ski resorts. I do farmers markets as an arts and craft vendor. Tear down and set up every single day Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“Which worked out great for me. I make tons of money doing it. I make a really good living doing it. But this year they were cutting vendors down because of social distancing. They were excluding arts and crafts vendors because they want to focus on the food. Some of the markets that I did didn’t start until the middle of July whereas usually they’d start the second week in June.”

But paying the $800 transient vendor fee seemed steep to her.

“It’s frustrating,” she said. “It was very, very expensive. I’ve worked in a lot of different cities. (A total of) $75 is the most expensive for a business license I’ve ever had to pay. And I didn’t stay there all year round. This was a yearly license.”

Even so, Moriarty renewed her stay and paid the $800 fee again to close out the season.

“The town had us because so many events were cancelled. If we wanted to work we had to pay,” she said.

Now that Moriarty has shown “investment” in the town, she may be eligible for a refund of some of the fees she paid this summer.

“She’s proven she’s invested in the community,” Ott said. “Since she’s put in a full year she’s showing investment. So she’s eligible for a $75 one-year license next year.”

Moriarty may get a refund on this year’s license fees with town board approval. The board approved such a return for Wild West Soda of South Dakota. The business had a transient license in 2019 and stayed for the tourist season. Upon application for a business license in 2020 it was refunded $725 of the $800 fee.

Moriarty and other transient vendors fall under an ordinance that was enacted to protect brick and mortar businesses in town. If someone own a brick and mortar building in town they don’t need to pay a transient vendor license to operate a booth or tent.

Peddlers and solicitors are required to pay $800 per month per booth.

The transient fees may not apply during town events when the town board can opt to reduce fees to $25.

In the early 1990s fees for transient vendors were as high as $3,000. The town board decided to lower the fee to $800 in 2006.”

The town has had to shut down businesses that have not complied with the fees. This is done via the town deputy who is also responsible for alerting the town of any vendors that pop up in city limits.

The large fee has stopped most transient vendors from coming here, but with COVID-19 plaguing many events this year, transient vendors found Keystone a profitable place to be for the summer season.

“I work in Sedona in the fall,” Moriarty said. “Right now they’re starting their shows up. We’ll see if they get shut down or not.”

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