Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Portsmouth, NH Uses "Freak Out Factor" to Legislate Small Businesses

The Portsmouth, New Hampshire City Council thinks their citizens are a bunch of idiots.

They're worried about what effect a seated mannequin outside a local shop at an area mall can have on the citizens. So they're only allowing her to place it for three months, rather than the one year she asked for.

The Portsmouth Sea Coast newspaper covered the city council's debate on the topic.

"Have we allowed a chair with a mannequin on city property before?" said Councilor Eric Spear. "Because it kind of freaks me out actually."

Councilor Esther Kennedy was similarly squeamish, "I kind of agree with Councilor Spear. It kind of freaks me out, too."

I'm sorry, the freakout factor is never a good strategy for making public policy that affects a person's business and livelihood. I'm freaked out by snakes, but I've never proposed a piece of legislation that banned them from my city.

City Manager John Bohenko was more concerned for the thousands and thousands absolutely no people who are deathly afraid of mannequins.

"If it appears to be a problem with people, who have a phobia or something, we can probably ask her not to put it out there," said Bohenko.

I guess the more important question for John Bohenko is: what are people with a mannequin phobia doing at a mall in the first place? The place is filled with mannequins. If they're afraid of a mannequin outside, they're going to crap their pants when they step inside.

But Assistant Mayor Jack Blalock, who also owns a downtown business, was the voice of reason and, well, sanity.

"It's a matter of what you like or don't like," said Blalock. "I see this like outside art and a clever way to advertise a business."

Echt told the Seacoast that she has not received any complaints or people collapsing in heaps outside her store since she put the mannequin outside.

"Normally, no one can see the store, and this gets attention," Echt said. "But it's OK. I don't mind."

(You can read a hysterical response from one of the Seacoast's columnists, Lily Robertson, here.)


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