An Edmonton business owner who rents out these kinds of signs in Red Deer protests having to take out a local business licence, saying Amazon and other online out-of-town businesses don’t. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Edmonton merchant says if Amazon doesn’t need a Red Deer business licence, why should he?

Sign Guru owner says it’s an unfair playing field

An Edmonton sign company owner says if Amazon, Google and Apple don’t have to pay for a Red Deer business licence to sell their products to Red Deerians, then neither should he.

Greg Pawlechko, owner of Sign Guru, was advised by a city licensing inspector in January that since his company rents out portable signs within city limits, he’s required to get a Red Deer business licence.

“A person that carries on a business in Red Deer must hold a valid business licence authorizing the person to carry on that business,” states the local bylaw.

But Pawlechko feels it’s unfair for City of Red Deer officials to go after smaller companies, like his, while giving a free pass to multinational corporations that also market their products here.

Apple sells iPhones in Red Deer, Google sells advertising, and Amazon sells just about any product to Red Deerians, says Pawlechko.

“It’s not an equal playing field. It’s discriminatory.”

According to an emailed response that Pawlechko received from the city, internet-based businesses such as Apple, Amazon and Google are not deemed to “carry on” business within the corporate limits, “even though the goods or services that these businesses offer may be supplied to customers in Red Deer.”

But Pawlechko feels the bylaw was worded this way because City of Red Deer officials know they can’t enforce these rules on the online world, so they are targeting companies that operate within the province.

The entrepreneur believes licences are another tax-like cost keeping businesses from being able to compete with online companies. Pawlechko, who already pays for an Edmonton business licence, questions the point of it, saying some municipalities are able to operate without them.

Amy Fengstad, parking and licensing supervisor for the city, says business licences are issued to keep track of the kinds of products being sold here. This data is collected by the economic development department for marketing purposes.

While Apple does not require a local business licence, the stores that sell iPhones and other Apple products do require it, she adds.

She feels Pawlechko has some “valid concerns” about online companies such as Amazon. If other municipalities have ideas about how to get this giant online retailer to apply for local business licences, “I’d like to investigate them,” she adds.

Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce president Rick More said annual business licence costs aren’t a huge deal when economic times are good, but with the slower economy, he’s heard some business owners refer to them as another barrier to doing business.

More feels municipalities should collectively seek solutions to the unfair playing field created by online retailers. “Shopping trends are changing,” he said, and cities and towns are not keeping up with the times.



lmichelin@reddeeradvocate.com

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