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One town decides to limit art galleries

Brief by Central Staff

Arts – December 2004 – Colorado Central Magazine

Resort towns have trouble keeping their commerce balanced. For many years, residents complained that there were too many T-shirt and souvenir shops sitting in a given downtown.

More recently, the complaints have been aimed at real-estate offices in what had been retail space — it gets harder and harder to shop downtown for everyday items like toothpaste and shoe laces, while there’s an abundance of storefronts offering scenic and partially forested 35-acre lots that adjoin public land.

And now Carmel, Calif., is addressing another kind of downtown non-diversity.

According to an Oct. 21 Associated Press story in the San Jose Mercury News, Carmel’s city council “has approved an urgency ordinance banning more art galleries along the mile-long Carmel-by-the-Sea retail area. There is a glut of about 120 art galleries, the city said, with half coming to town in the last five years. That’s a gallery for every 34 residents.”

A resident observed that the retail area was down to one drugstore, “and you can’t get your clothes cleaned or your shoes repaired here.” Of the city’s roughly 300 retail shops, approximately four out of 10 are art galleries.

The ordinance puts a halt to issuing business licenses for new art galleries that don’t meet certain standards, such as being a working artist’s studio or a gallery that features the work of just one artist.

Among other things, the city government was concerned about a decline in sales-tax revenue. That’s because a high-end purchase from a gallery is often shipped to the buyer, which avoids local sales tax, whereas regular purchases generally happen at the counter, and sales tax is collected.

So far as we know, no one has complained that there are too many galleries in downtown Salida; the problem most often mentioned is empty buildings and storefronts.