Door-to-door sales: Voters ban soliciting

Door-to-door selling has joined murder, theft, building on undersized lots, vending from roadside food trucks, the improper keeping of hooved animals and various other crimes, misdemeanors and locally frowned-upon activities on a growing list of all that’s illegal in Ridgefield.

With a chorus of voices asserting “aye” and only one “nay,” a town meeting of 14 Ridgefielders — counting four selectmen — approved changes to the town’s decades-old peddling ordinance, eliminating a permit process for door-to-door sales and making the practice largely illegal.

The Board of Selectmen initiated the ordinance revisions earlier in the fall, saying residents find people knocking on their doors to sell things annoying and sometimes kind of scary. It has long been a source of regular citizen complaints.

The heart of the newly revised ordinance reads: “... no person or entity shall peddle, vend, hawk or sell upon any Town road or from house to house, not having been requested or invited to do so by the owner or owners, occupant or occupants, anywhere in the Town, any goods, service, wares or merchandise, or any newspaper, magazine or other periodical subscription.”

“Retail sales,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said at the public hearing that preceded the town meeting. “... We do not want people going door-to-door.”

There are enumerated exceptions to the door-to-door ban.

“We want the Girl Scouts to sell cookies,” Marconi said.

The exceptions include “non-profits, church organizations, political canvassing, that sort of thing,” said Alexander Copp, the attorney from Cohen and Wolf, the town’s law firm, who worked with the selectmen on the ordinance revisions.

The wording in the ordinance that allows non-commercial door-knockers — political candidates, religious missionaries and, yes, the Girl Scouts — reads:

“The provision of this article shall not apply to the following:

“(1) Political canvassers, as well as persons or entities duly authorized to act for or on behalf of any charitable, civic or religious organization, or on behalf of any organization that has been approved by the Board of Selectmen to come under such exemption.

“(2) Sales by farmers and gardeners of the produce of their farms and gardens.

“(3) Food delivery services.

“(4) Mobile food service operations as permitted in this chapter…”

The one “nay” in the vote to approve the ordinance revisions came from Ed Tyrrell, who was — as he often is — elected to run the town meeting as moderator.

“Someone can’t hawk newspapers?” Tyrrell asked during the hearing. “Newspapers aren’t protected by the First Amendment, and the Girls Scouts are?”

Attorney Copp said the prohibition focused only on the door-to-door aspect of selling, not newspapers or other periodicals themselves.

“Only door-to-door,” he said. “It’s not telephone calls, selling newspapers in a stand.”

John Katz, a Planning and Zoning Commission member who attended the meeting, asked about the exception for “sales by farmers and gardeners of the produce of their farms and gardens.”

He wondered about the distinction between gardeners and farmers selling what they’d grown, or re-selling produce from farms elsewhere.

“How does that get policed?” Katz asked.

A brief discussion reduced this concern. The “farmers and gardeners” clause isn’t a part of the peddlers ordinance that was just changed as part of the effort to ban door-to-door sales. It had come up in the past when there was some concern about farm stands.

Attorney Copp added that sales of farm produce were protected in the state statutes that allow towns to regulate sales.

“There are certain statutory exceptions,” he said, “... One of the things it says you can’t regulate is farmers and gardeners.”

Following the public hearing, the town meeting approval came swiftly, and with virtually no discussion.