Kill Devil Hills faces lawsuit challenging restrictions on ‘itinerant vendors’

Ami Hill stands near her #Bus252. (Image courtesy of Pacific Legal Foundation)

Listen to this story (4 minutes)

  • A lawsuit filed Tuesday challenges Kill Devil Hills' restrictions for "itinerant vendors."
  • Ami Hill argues the town's rules block her business, #Bus252, from operating in town during the peak summer tourism season.

A coastal N.C. town faces a new lawsuit over rules that block an entrepreneur from selling local artists’ goods outside a traditional brick-and-mortar store.

Ami Hill filed suit Tuesday morning in Dare County Superior Court against Kill Devil Hills. With help from the Pacific Legal Foundation, Hill is challenging the Dare County town’s restrictions for “itinerant vendors.” Hill contends town rules block her from operating her business. Hill owns #Bus252, a former school bus now operating as a mobile art gallery. She also runs the Muse Market, a “bazaar-like setting” tied to her mobile gallery.

Under a town ordinance, Hill and other itinerant vendors must donate 100% of their profits to charity in exchange for the right to sell goods in town between May 1 and Sept. 30, the “high tourism season,” according to a PLF news release.

“Alternatively, vendors can request a permit to operate from the Board of Commissioners, but they must undergo an arbitrary and unduly burdensome process each time they want to sell,” the release said. “This puts itinerant vendors between a proverbial rock and a hard place.”

“To add insult to injury, the town has created a First Flight Market, which features local artists — itinerant vendors — in direct competition with Hill’s Muse Market,” the release adds. “The only difference is that the town-sponsored vendors can sell year-round and keep their profits. The town also rejected #Bus252’s application to participate in First Flight Market.”

“The town cannot condition an itinerant vendor’s right to earn a living on surrendering profits or going to the Board of Commissioners for permission each time they want to sell,” said PLF attorney Donna Matias. “Ami and business owners like her have a right to the fruits of their labor under the North Carolina Constitution.”

In 2017, after 20 years of working for a corporate employer, Hill struck out on her own. She leased a building in Kitty Hawk and opened Muse Originals OBX. She invited local artists to display their work on consignment. In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced hill to shut down her gallery.

“Ami still needed to feed her family of five and cover the costs of her lease, so she did what all good entrepreneurs do: She figured out how to make it happen,” according to the PLF website’s description of the case. “She spotted an old school bus for sale as the perfect ‘vehicle’ to pivot her business model. She bought the bus, ripped out the seats, renovated the inside, and painted the outside a cheery coral color. #Bus252 was christened, and she was ready to take her art show on the road — literally.”

Ami Hill shows the items in her mobile art gallery, #Bus252. (Image courtesy of Pacific Legal Foundation)

Hill planned to park the bus in different Outer Banks locations on different days. Additional local artists could set up their own tables in the associated Muse Market.

Problems started last year, according to PLF. Kill Devil Hills denied Hill a permit to set up her bus and market at an event held on a local brewery’s private property. “Since then, the town has cut off all opportunities for Ami to earn a living during the town’s busiest season between May and October. Ami decided to fight back,” PLF reports.

As recently as May 25, the Kill Devil Hills Board rejected Hill’s request to have Muse Market declared an “event” that would be permitted to operate in town during the summer months.