Warwick craft festival artisans face increased licensing fee

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) – From handmade bags to carefully crafted wooden vases, Ocean State Artisans are busy preparing for their annual craft festival in Warwick.

Karen Lacas is one of about 100 vendors planning to participate.

“This is more of a hobby for me, something i enjoy,” Lacas said.

Russ Bolton is another artisan who’s been part of the show for years.

“This is probably the best one because 100 percent of the stuff there is made by the people selling it,” he said.

Though they look forward to the annual event, artisans told Call 12 for Action they may not be able to afford to be part of the show in coming years.

This year, Warwick is requiring each vendor to pay a $50 licensing fee, a sharp increase from years past.

Call 12 for Action went through years worth of city licenses for the festival. They show a single, $350 fee, paid for by Ocean State Artisans, covered licensing for all of the crafters.

“I’m very very frustrated,” Lacas said.

Sue Keenan, the president of the non-profit said most vendors don’t make enough money at the show to cover the extra cost.

“We’ve already lost a few vendors,” Keenan said. “We’re going to have to leave Warwick because we simply can’t afford it.”

Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian said the repeal of an 1800’s era state law is driving the increased licensing fees.

“State law did away with a provision for itinerant vendors,” Avedisian explained. “Previously each individual crafter could go under an umbrella license. We don’t have an umbrella policy in the city.”

Without that policy, Avedisian said the city has no choice but to charge for individual licenses.

“Sometimes when state law changes, we don’t understand the impact it’s going to have on a licensing authority,” he added.

State lawmakers said the goal of repealing the long-standing law was to cut through red tape for vendors doing temporary business in Rhode Island.

Following Call 12 for Action’s questions, Avedisian said he is proposing a new city ordinance, that would allow any non-profit organization to petition Warwick for an umbrella policy for one event annually.

“We’re hopeful to get it to the council by the end of this year so we can start the new year with it on the books,” Avedisian said.

Vendors would still be subject to sales tax and any health department regulations.

Susan Campbell (scampbell@wpri.com) is the Call 12 for Action and Target 12 consumer investigator for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.