The words “Respect the pillow” echoed in the Farmers Market Pavillion on 8th and Oak during a town hall meeting between community vendors, a representative from the Lane County Farmers Market, Lane County officials, Eugene Police Department officers and a Eugene Springfield Fire marshal.
Vendors were invited to gather in the downtown pavilion on May 10 to openly discuss their frustrations with the recent enforcement of certain rules regarding the use of canopies. Currently, according to the city of Eugene’s website, vendors with Downtown Activity Zone (DAZ) permits are prohibited from erecting canopies. “It’s a safety concern,” says Eugene Springfield Fire Marshal Travis Worthington.
The plaza is owned by Lane County but is allowed to be utilized by DAZ permit holders through an Intergovernmental Agreement with the city of Eugene.
DAZ permits, which began being issued by the city of Eugene for $25 three years ago, allow holders to vend on Saturdays, according to a city of Eugene spokesperson, for up to a year before renewal. EPD and the fire department enforce all rules associated with the permit.
Vendors in the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza in front of the Lane County Circuit Court say they had no issue erecting their canopies until a few weeks prior. “There’s an inconsistency enforcing the rules,” says Hedin Manus Brugh, a vendor in the plaza who sells pagan items and handmade magic wands. “There are no definitions of rules.”
While vendors were setting up in the early morning, EPD and fire officials would arrive around 7 am each Saturday and order the removal of canopies. Brugh refused to take his down, explaining to officers that he was protesting as was his right in Free Speech plaza. He was then given a citation, which has now been canceled.
Brugh, who was initially homeless when he began selling his wands, has been vending in the plaza for 13 years and notes how this rule regarding canopies has not always been enforced. According to vendors, the permits are changed every year.
“They’ll tell every vendor a different thing. We just want to vend like everyone else,” says Skel McDonald, another vendor in Free Speech Plaza. For McDonald, the stakes are higher when it comes to the removal of his canopy. “I can get seizures, strokes or a heart attack if I get too much sun exposure.”
Three days after speaking with Eugene Weekly, McDonald said he seized while vending after having his canopy forcibly removed.
Later, during the town meeting, several vendors echoed the sentiment, “As long as the rules are the same as the Saturday Market, we’re OK.”
The newest permit includes a clause that requires all signatories to “indemnify, defend and hold harmless the city of Eugene” against any claims of injury to property or persons. Brugh notes that police and fire officials are in the plaza every Saturday morning.
For several weeks, vendors were left to wonder whether or not their canopies would be torn down by EPD officers and fire marshals. Then Lane County officials arrived and informed all vendors of the town hall where they could air their grievances.
And so the pillow came into play.
At the town hall, vendors were asked to pass a pastel-yellow pillow around in a circle while discussing their issues with the recent enforcement. When people began to talk loudly over one another, Lane County officials would repeat the statement “Respect the pillow.”
Complete silence would follow.
During the meeting, the vendors came to a unanimous yet tentative agreement with Lane County officials that allow each permit holder to have one 10-by-10-foot canopy anchored by 25-pound weights placed on each leg. This agreement will hold until the permits can be revisited at a later date.
This story was developed as part of the Catalyst Journalism Project at the University Of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. To learn more visit CatalystJournalism.uoregon.edu.