Ami Hill is nothing if not determined and creative. When she learned her corporate employer of 20 years would be bought out, she considered the imminent layoffs an opportunity to transform an old dream into a new career.
She knew she didn’t want to work for another boss; she wanted to strike out on her own. Ami dusted off her dream of opening a shop that features local artists and artisans in the Outer Banks, NC, community (OBX). In 2017, with money from her severance package, she leased a building in Kitty Hawk, built it out, and invited local artists to display their works on consignment. Muse Originals OBX was born. But in March 2020, after only two years in business, the pandemic forced Ami 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. 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.
Her plan was to park #Bus252 throughout the Outer Banks area—different locations on different days—to maximize exposure for new and accomplished local artists and artisans and deepen the community’s appreciation for the abundant talent in their midst. She also invited additional local artists to set up their own tables in a bazaar-like setting she called Muse Market.
If only it were so easy.
Ami’s problems began last year, when the town denied her a permit to set up #Bus252 and her Muse Market at Brew-N-Art—an event held on a local brewery’s private property in her hometown of Kill Devil Hills (KDH). 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.
A KDH town ordinance prohibits “itinerant vendors,” like Ami, who don’t operate out of brick-and-mortar buildings, from operating at all unless they’re part of a “special event.” The ordinance categorizes special events as either charitable or non-charitable, each grouping with its own arbitrary restrictions: Charitable events can operate year-round so long as all vendors agree to donate 100% of their proceeds to a non-profit organization; if not, they cannot operate between May and October. Non-charitable events require a vote by the Board of Commissioners for each event at which the vendor wishes to sell, and vendors must apply four weeks in advance of the monthly board meeting. The Board of Commissioners has unfettered discretion to decide who gets to operate.
On May 25, 2022, the board decided that Muse Market—which features local artists and artisans selling their wares in a pop-up art show—was “not an event” it considered “for the good of the community.” Never mind that the town has now established its own competing local artists market! The board denied Ami’s application to operate this summer.
Neither Ami nor the artists she showcases felt they should have to surrender the entirety of their proceeds for the privilege of selling art during the busy summer season. Worse, town-sponsored events and the itinerant vendors they feature are exempt from these restrictions, meaning the town could poach Ami’s artists for events any time of year, and in turn, the artists could keep all their profits.
As it turns out, the ordinance’s itinerant vendor scheme is illegal. Basing someone’s right to earn a living during the busiest season on their willingness to fork over 100% of proceeds to a charity violates the North Carolina Constitution. Notably, North Carolina’s “Fruits of Their Own Labor” clause—the only state in the country with this provision—protects the fundamental right to earn a living free of unreasonable, arbitrary, and unnecessary government interference.
Ami’s determination runs as deep as her entrepreneurial spirit. Represented at no charge by PLF, she’s fighting back in state court. On behalf of itinerant vendors like herself, Ami wants to preserve the right to the fruits of one’s labor by stopping the town of Kill Devil Hills from forcing these businesses to convert into charitable fundraising organizations.
PLF has provided a gallery of photos of Ami and her bus for use in news coverage, available here.