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Roadside food stands, souvenir stands and food trucks are a common sight in many cities. Opening a stand is cheaper than a bricks-and-mortar store, but it's still bound by the same laws and requirements. In most cities you'll need a business license, sales tax permits and a food license if you sell edibles.
Business License Requirement
Most city and county governments require all businesses to take out a business license, though there are exceptions. You can't get a license or operate a business if the zoning doesn't permit it. For example, residential districts often ban businesses. Some municipal governments have added rules for particular types of businesses. In Raleigh, N.C., for instance, food trucks parked along city streets must pass several special requirements in addition to getting a business license and a food retail sales permit. One requirement is that trucks can't occupy a parking space while the primary use of the space is still open to the public.
Licenses for Food
If you sell food, you'll have a boatload of added regulations to follow due to the potential health risks. In Maine, for example, anyone preparing or serving food, even from a roadside stand, needs a license from the state Department of Health and Human Services. To get your license you'll have to show HHS your provisions for food preparation and storage, your menu and a floor plan. You also have to pay state fees. This licensing is separate from taking out a business license, which is a city/county application.
Health officials don't just accept business owners' promises that the food is prepared hygienically. If you serve food, you'll have to prepare for a health inspection. The inspector will confirm that everything in your setup passes muster under state regulations. If the inspector spots violations, she can tell you what you'll have to do to fix them. You'll have to undergo the inspection before you start selling, with routine check-up inspections afterwards.
If you're selling anything covered by the local sales tax, you have to collect the tax. In Raleigh, for example, you can't take out a food-truck license without showing your North Carolina sales-tax certificate. State governments let new businesses apply for a sales-tax permit online. You might also need a permit from the state department of agriculture such as if you're baking, canning or making food at home.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.