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Soliciting ordinance quiets Tombstone’s hawkers

Cowboy Chris talks to a tourist walking by. (Photo by: Justin Spears/Arizona Sonora News)

Walking up Allen Street in Tombstone on any given afternoon, smiling cowboys greet and direct tourists around town to ensure they’re receiving the old western treatment the way it should be.

The cowboys are friendly and guide tourists to specific spots, because they don’t work for the city, but rather independently owned businesses. They’re advertisers, promoters and a few bad apples ruined the friendly reputation after they were accused of  being too aggressive in luring customers to businesses.

The use of vulgar language, intimidating people into attractions and invading personal space was starting to become a problem so the city council stepped in on April 24 and ordered the enforcement of an ordinance that regulates those who shout out solicitations for business as the spring tourism season winds down.

The ordinance isn’t new. It’s been brought up on several occasions since 2007 and in the past, it’s been utilized as a reminder, but the council wanted to truly enforce it after receiving complaints about advertisers being disruptive when engaging with tourists. Carol Ramsey reaches out to potential customers for Puny John’s Barbecue and directs people to the restaurant. She agreed with strict upbringing of the ordinance. 

“There needed to be control. No yelling, no screaming—just be decent,” Ramsey said. “I stand in my area and talk decently to people. I don’t yell, chase and scream at people. It happens all the time. Most of it was yelling and screaming to come to places and it’s not necessary. You’re not getting people down there by yelling at them.”

Tombstone Stagecoach strolls through Allen Street for a tour. (Photo by: Justin Spears/Arizona Sonora News)

Essentially, the city council put a muzzle on the cowboys. But they’re looking out for the tourist’s best interest, according to City Councilman Bill Barlow. If a visitor was pressed into eating at a steakhouse as opposed to having a hotdog at a different restaurant, that’s not what Barlow believes is the best style of business.

“If you brought your girlfriend, family or friends down to Tombstone and somebody hawking near you—they don’t have to necessarily be reaching out and touching you, but they were using foul language and cussing, you wouldn’t appreciate that,” Barlow said. “That’s just not good business and you don’t have too be smart to realize that they’re doing it the wrong way.”

Hawkers on Allen Street between 3rd and 6th streets must stay within 25-feet of the establishment and 15-feet away from other promoters including ones from the same business. However, only two hawkers per business can be available. If a business is caught with more than two, or any use profanity or engage in any sort of physical contact with a tourist, it will be fined $1,000.

Since the ordinance was brought up, the town hasn’t received any complaints and hawkers are back into their friendly, cowboy ways. Although the street has been “quieter” with the soliciting rules enforced, tourism traffic has flowed and Barlow presumes that the problem of intimidated tourists is put to rest.

“It’s quieter now, because people are following the rules that we’ve had all along,” Barlow said. “Overall, I think it was a good move to bring the ordinance up to enforce it and we probably won’t have problems for quite a while.”

Justin Spears is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at justinspears@email.arizona.edu. 

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