The city of Fresno is being criticized for levying fines against a furniture retailer for curbside pickup of online sales.
The criticism came quickly, after Bernie Siomiak — the man in the flamboyant jackets and king’s crown in the TV ads — posted a picture online with his latest fine.
Assemblyman Jim Patterson tweeted: “One day after Crazy Bernie said his piece at City Hall, he was cited for $5000. Told it is unlawful to operate his website. For doing the safest kind of business there is. Online. OK for Amazon, but not Bernie. He isn’t crazy, the City is. It’s now come down to retribution fines.”
Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims replied on Twitter, “Not right!”
City Hall said that the furniture store owner wasn’t punished for speaking out.
“The fine was in response to repeated violations, not because he took part in a press conference,” City Hall spokesman Mark Standriff said.
City Justifies Curbside Ban
Councilman Garry Bredefeld held a news conference on Tuesday, questioning the legality of the city’s shelter-in-place orders. He said the city was picking winners like big-box retailers, and losers like small businesses.
Standriff, speaking on behalf of Mayor Lee Brand and City Manager Wilma Quan, explained the city’s position.
“Businesses like Amazon, Target, and Walmart are essential because they eliminate the need for multiple trips to buy food, clothing, medicine, technology, and a wide variety of other products. They’re one-stop shops that reduce the public risk,” Standriff said.
“That’s what shelter-in-place orders are for. It’s not about the individual store or activity. It’s about people staying home where it’s safe unless they absolutely have to go to work or to the doctor, or have to make a trip for essential goods or services, because every time they leave their house, they increase the risk of spreading COVID-19 to the entire community.”
Amazon, with a distribution center located in south Fresno, is considered essential under state and federal guidelines, according to Standriff.
“They sell and ship every conceivable product that is essential for a community to function,” Standriff said.
Clothing Retailer Losing Money, Maybe Business
“If our mayor does not start thinking for himself, we’re going to lose our business.” — Amy Ratliff, owner of Fairy Godmother’s Closet
Amy Ratliff was one of the business owners who spoke at Bredefeld’s news conference earlier this week.
She and business partner Jerica Lovett operate Fairy Godmother’s Closet, a reseller of children’s clothes.
“If our mayor does not start thinking for himself, we’re going to lose our business. Other people are going to lose their businesses,” Ratliff said. “This is just insanity on a level I never thought I would see in my lifetime.”
Fairy Godmother’s Closet moved sales online with curbside pickups, which was shuttered after a warning letter from city code enforcement.
“We were not continuing regular operations. We were not open to the public,” Ratliff said.
Ratliff said the city told them they couldn’t even mail items from their store. Standriff did not have an immediate response to Ratliff’s comment.
Clothing stores are on the city’s nonessential business list.
“We’re afraid that if we defy the orders, that they’ll revoke our business license because there’s all sorts of things that they’ll do, as much as we’re fighting. We’re trying to fight this correctly,” Ratliff said.
With the shutdown, Ratliff estimates her store is out $25,000.
Dyer Wants Safe Reopening
Mayor-elect Jerry Dyer said he wants to reopen Fresno businesses the right way.
“I am supportive of reopening our economy by sector while mitigating risk. It is important that we do this thoughtfully, and with the guidance from the Fresno County Health Department,” Dyer said.
Dyer, who takes office in January, serves as the vice-chairman of Brand’s Fresno Recovery Advisory Committee.
“We must also factor in the guidelines established by Gov. Newsom. I am very supportive of a regional and coordinated approach to reopening the economy based on local data. In essence, Fresno County should not be prevented from reopening our local economy based on what is occurring in Los Angeles or San Francisco,” Dyer said.
Nathan Ahle, president and CEO of the Fresno Chamber of Commerce and also member of Brand’s advisory committee would like to see curbside service.
“Curbside pickup seems a reasonable way to minimize contact, practice physical distancing and allow businesses to operate even at a lesser capacity while serving the needs of the public. It’s unfortunate that the Governor has tied the hands of local jurisdictions and forced them to make determinations on what businesses are essential and what aren’t. This leads to inconsistencies and frustration that benefits no one,” Ahle said.
No Curbside Service for Nonessential Businesses
“Businesses like Amazon, Target, and Walmart are essential because they eliminate the need for multiple trips to buy food, clothing, medicine, technology, and a wide variety of other products. They’re one-stop shops that reduce the public risk.” — Fresno City Hall spokesman Mark Standriff
The city has a list of considered essential and nonessential businesses. No operation of any kind is allowed at nonessential businesses.
“It’s not about curbside pickups. All specialty retail stores are considered to be nonessential business, which means they cannot operate at all during the city’s current emergency orders,” Standriff said.
Even major retailer Kohl’s shut down their curbside pickup after the city notified them.
Third Notice for Bernie’s
“The complaints we received were for the continued operation of (Crazy Bernie) and the advertisements of his store website for pick-up sales, which are not allowed at this time,” Standriff said.
The city gave a warning notice on March 31, followed by a $1,000 citation on April 23, and a $5,000 citation for the second violation Wednesday.
Standriff said 28 other furniture stores have been issued warnings or citations, with two others — A Better Bed and Furniture For You — receiving $1,000 fines.