The motion passed unanimously and members of the public immediately stood up to leave the meeting room. The ease with which the board of supervisors blocked our ability to operate legally was almost comical but mostly it was disturbing given the $200,000 and many months of time our friends had invested to start their (soon-to-be) illegal business.
Inyo County Courthouse: the 1st public hearing, 6/6/2017
The most disturbing part of this public hearing beyond the misinformation presented by biased local business owners, was the guise of public safety that the county supervisors used to ban an innovative business model that has proven extremely successful all over the country… not to mention the fact that county legal counsel had neither heard of nor consulted relevant state and federal case precedent. It was perfectly clear what everyone in attendance was really so pissed off about – money.
We lost count of how many times people eluded to the fact that Mary and Charlie weren’t paying their fare share of taxes, an accusation that is completely false (since they pay both state and local taxes with every sale they make as well as a tax on their inventory at year’s end). A flurry of locals approached the podium:
“we can’t just let a mobile business set up shop and start earning money – they aren’t paying rent! They aren’t paying property taxes! It’s not fair!”
Local brick and mortar business owners literally spoke these very words – ‘it’s not fair’. As if they never had the chance to start their own mobile businesses (or just weren’t smart enough to do so). One local business owner even mused that he might just ‘throw a bunch of stuff in a trailer’ to sell…yeah buddy, like it’s THAT easy…
And so, in an attempt to ‘level the playing field’ as he put it, 5th District Supervisor Matt Kingsley motioned to introduce the new ordinance, Subsection D to section 10.36.080 of the Inyo County code, banning businesses selling goods or services out of trailers/vehicles on county property, and it was unanimously accepted. In one week, a second vote will adopt the ordinance which will go into effect 30 days thereafter.
2 Foot Adventures: mobile gear shop
The business at hand is 2 Foot Adventures (also known as Whitney Gear while in Lone Pine), a mobile gear retail and rental boutique that caters to a mix of Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) thru-hikers (hiking from Mexico to Canada) and Mount Whitney Summit hopefuls during the busy summer season.
2 Foot Adventures is a passion project started by Matt’s friend Mary “Pillsbury” Scudder and her partner, Charlie Brown. Matt and Pillsbury first crossed paths in 2014, high in the clouds on San Jacinto Peak, while hiking the PCT. The decision to hike that trail changed both of their lives, as Matt moved from Colorado to California, and Pillsbury left her former career in engineering to forge her way in the outdoor industry. After a few years working in retail, Mary decided there was a niche the shops along the Southern part of the trail weren’t offering and decided to walk the scary path of an entrepreneur. She envisioned following the bubble of hikers along the trail, offering them gear and perhaps even as important, deep expertise of the trail.
The small mobile boutique stocks ultralight speciality brands favored by PCT hikers such as Hyperlite Mountain Gear packs, Altra shoes and Jacks R Better quilts, many of which are not available at other shops in town (or within 50+ miles). They also rent ice axes to Whitney hikers, a service which no other shop currently offers, and is crucially important safety equipment for anyone traveling on steep snow – there’s a LOT of it this year.
True Passion for an Industry
If you have the chance to hear Mary talk for more than a minute, you’ll quickly learn how deep her passion runs for hiking, ultralight gear, the Eastern Sierras, and ultimately the PCT.
Mary records up-to-the-moment notes regarding conditions in the field (collected from hikers) which she dispatches via Instagram (@2footadventures) and a newsletter originating from her website (www.2footadventures.com). She genuinely wants the hikers she serves to succeed in their goals and her offer of trail information is pure love for the people that share her enthusiasm for hiking.
Mary also has an encyclopedic knowledge of gear. She can recite backpack weights from memory as well as the the R-value of sleeping pads and the weight sans-poles or stakes for most of the ultralight backpacking tents. This knowledge doesn’t come from reading catalogs in the back of her airstream trailer. Mary’s intimate knowledge of gear comes from using it. She’s owned most of it and put it through it’s paces in the backcountry of the Sierras.
Mary always goes the extra mile to do what’s best for the hikers and her customers. If she doesn’t have something she is confident will work for them, she sends them elsewhere (whether online or down the street).
Running a mobile gear shop legally is a logistical nightmare. Mary and Charlie spent days researching local and state codes, ordinances and laws. They met with public officials multiple times in both Inyo and San Diego counties to ensure beyond a shadow of a doubt that their business would be free to operate from a legal standpoint. They scouted out possible locations and met with County Planning who even consulted with County Legal Counsel to review these spots. They were given the thumbs up and subsequently licensed.
After getting past this initial hurdle, Mary and Charlie still had to secure their business partners and vendors. They explained their mobile boutique to outdoor gear brands, many of which hadn’t ever heard of a mobile gear retail business:
“How will I track you down? What do you mean it moves?”
And then there were lies that local competition told the brand representatives. Before they even launched in Warner Springs, California, 2 Foot Adventures was already under attack. David, the owner of another gear shop more than 50 miles south in Mt. Laguna, called gear reps from major brands. He told them that 2FootAdventures would be setting up across the street from his shop (illegal and impossible – it’s National Forest) and selling gear at DEEPLY discounted prices (also false, their pricing is controlled by contracts). He called them “trailer trash.” Unfortunately, Dave’s lies got the better of some of the outdoor brand reps, who pulled out of 2 Foot Adventures before the business even opened.
Mt. Laguna Outfitters wasn’t the only competition intent on disrupting the business of 2Foot Adventures. Jon, a co-owner of Elevation, a gear shop in Lone Pine, California, used similar tactics. He called the reps for brands that 2FootAdventures had secured accounts with and were working to secure and ‘read them the riot act’, spouting out such statements as ‘this is my territory’ so big brands wouldn’t even consider opening accounts with 2 Foot Adventures. Other gear companies have asked Charlie and Mary not to stock their products in Lone Pine.
The most unfortunate part of this is that Elevation has not been keeping some gear in stock (the gear 2 Foot was asked NOT to carry). In the last week, more than a handful of hikers have stopped in 2 Foot Adventures looking to purchase gear that Elevation has been sold out of. There are no other options within 50 miles.
Coming full-circle: small town politics
It just so happens that Jon, the owner of Elevation is good friends with 5th District Supervisor Matt Kingsley…remember that guy? Yup, he’s the one that introduced the new ordinance that would ban mobile businesses from operating on county right-of-ways…because of public safety…or was it because 2 Foot Adventures is a threat to Elevation? You can hardly even call 2 Foot competition because they carry a drastically different selection of brands and goods from wool clothing to sub 2-pound backpacks. And what 2 Foot offers is much more than just a gear boutique in a vintage trailer. The insight and knowledge freely discussed at length with all of our visitors is a product in and of itself – a free product that anyone is welcome to.
Wrapping it all up
Ultimately, we’re all left in a precarious position here in Inyo County. Our friend’s multiple hundred-thousand dollar investment is threatened by local businesses as well as the local officials who are creating un-fair regulations that favor brick-and-mortar businesses over mobile ones. We have a tentative date when our friend’s business will effectively be illegal, at which time we may no longer have jobs.
But our jobs aren’t really the issue at hand. Matt and I can find other jobs. A bigger issue is how easy it is for local governments to enact broad and far-ranging regulation under the guise of something else. The issues that people brought up at the courthouse meeting included taxes, parking availability, fire and other safety issues including queuing issues for people waiting in line, all of which are ignored by the proposed ordinance.
If they wanted to collect more taxes why not create a permitting system? If they wanted to solve parking issues why not enact parking regulations as many cities have done (one hour parking, no overnight parking)? If they wanted to prevent people from parking dangerously on a corner (a concern brought up by truckers) why not enact and enforce safety regulations about how far from a corner people can park, etc.? If they wanted to ensure no other safety concerns as people frequented these types of businesses (such as queuing issues, which people brought up) why not include reasonable regulations around where people can queue or how businesses need to deal with queuing?
The fact that a hastily-written regulation completely banning mobile business was proposed instead of addressing the supposed ‘real’ issues is further proof of the favoritism, protectionism and sideways ethics taking place in Inyo County politics. The problem with this is MUCH bigger than the fact that mobile businesses won’t be able to operate on county right-of-ways. This is a direct attack on the constitutional rights of Americans, pursuing their dreams of owning their own businesses (be those businesses mobile or brick and mortar).
How you can help
Mary and Charlie are looking for help to fight back against Inyo County so that they can serve the thousands of summertime visitors to Lone Pine and Mount Whitney this summer. You can contact them directly at email@example.com or (760) 614-1151.
Do you have media connections who might be able to get them coverage in local or national press? Do you know lawyers who work directly on these issues? Share, re-blog, and spread the word.