At the February 21 Montclair Township Council meeting, the council reviewed a first-reading ordinance requiring retail service businesses to post prices for services. It was met with some concerns.
While Councilor Baskerville wanted to vote on it immediately, saying that it was pointless to continue to allow businesses not to post prices for services and possibly charge one person one price while charging another customer a different price, others wanted more time to review it. Councilor Russo requested more time to review the wording and Civil Rights Commission Chair Joe Kavesh requested an adjournment to give the CRC an opportunity to review and discuss the proposed ordinance at its March 16 meeting, as the CRC had drafted a gender pricing ordinance in 2015. Montclair Business Improvement District Executive Director Israel Cronk said it was important to inform businesses and identify specifically what businesses would fall under such an ordinance.
The Board of Directors of the Upper Montclair Business Association have issues with the proposed ordinance as well. Board President, Jodie Dawson, also the owner of Java Love, sent out the following letter to members outlining concerns:
The Board of Directors of the Upper Montclair Business Association wishes to bring to the attention of the Association members an ordinance recently proposed by the Montclair Township Council that would to require Montclair retail service establishments to post the prices for their services. This legislation, which we are informed is planned to be introduced on March 28, 2017, requires all “retail service establishments” to post at a counter or desk where orders are placed, a list conspicuously displaying the current selling price of the basic services provided. The bill defines what the current selling price is and includes a list of covered retail service establishments such as tailors, dry cleaners, laundries, barbers, hair salons, nail salons, as well as others. The proposed legislation also requires that the price list disclose factors which may cause a price to be higher than the basic price and, in a case of a sale, that the regular price remain conspicuously visible.
The bill provides for penalties of $200 for the first offense, $300 for the second offense and $500 for the third and subsequent offenses. Each time the current selling price is not displayed in accordance with the law, it is a separate violation. A copy of the proposed law is attached to this memorandum.
The Board considers the proposed legislation to be a gross interference in the right of local businesses to conduct their affairs. It is not up to the Township, or any governmental body, to regulate the pricing strategies of businesses or how they price their services. A business should have a right to price a service the way it wants and post or not post the prices as it deems appropriate. If a customer does not like the way the store does business, then he or she can go to another store. That is how the system works.
The Board also thinks the legislation is unnecessary. It is not clear what the purpose of the bill is. Is it to assist consumers in making good choices or is it to correct some perceived discrimination against one group or another? In any case, no evidence has been produced that it would do either. Further, if it is the latter, there has been no evidence that retailers in Montclair discriminate against any group. In fact, it would be bad for their business to do so.
The Board believes the enforcement of the law will be unwieldy. How are businesses to list their prices when they do not know the work they have to do? For example, in shoe repair, how could you obtain a price for repairing a shoe until you tell the shoemaker what you want done? Of course, some items could be listed, such as replacing a heel, but it would be impossible to list the prices for every service. Also, why are some businesses excluded? It seems that doctors, lawyers, accountants and other professionals could also list their prices for services. If there is any discrimination, it would seem to be against the retail service establishments.
The Board is also worried about the precedent of such legislation. What would be the next step? Would the Township determine what prices should be or what merchants can sell? Montclair already makes it difficult for businesses to operate. It does not need to add to that.
UMBA urges its members to reach out to the Council to express their concerns about the legislation.