This Conversation Never Happened

March 25th, 2010 comments 0

If you’ve never browsed the City of Chicago Municipal Code, take a look (the section on Farmers Markets might be of interest).  You don’t have to spend much time with it before realizing that its confusing, sometimes self-contradicting, and often alarmingly open to interpretation.

We decided to ask for clarification.  Since we’ve been in contact with the Director of the CDPH,  and the Deputy Director of BACP, it seemed like a good opportunity to get a straight answer.  Our question was, “If a vendor is only selling at Farmer’s Markets, does that vendor need their own retail food establishment license?”.  Surprisingly, we got a fairly small, business friendly response.  If you are only selling at Farmers Markets, both were in agreement that no license is required, and vendors are able to work out of shared-use kitchens for the purposes of those markets.

The only problem is that it was a verbal response, and a quick follow-up email to confirm the answer has gone unanswered for a week now.

We’ve been burned before.  Answers from the City have a nasty habit of changing depending on who and when you ask.  Therefore, making business decisions based on those answers should be taken at one’s own risk.  We’ve been advised to always document names and conversations when dealing with City officials.  In fact, that advice was from the same director from whom we’re now struggling to get a written confirmation.

Of course, even with documentation, answers can still just be wrong.  That means that as a micro-business trying to navigate municipal code, you better watch out for (1) arbitrary interpretation, (2) a reluctance to provide definite (documented) answers, and (3) wrong information.  How would you mitigate these risks?

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