McHenry's new flea market fee raises ire

McHENRY – The McHenry City Council unanimously approved a measure requiring an annual $1,400 city license fee for flea markets at its meeting Monday night.

The vote drew a sharp reaction from Jennifer Eckel, who runs Eckel’s McHenry Flea Market.

“Congratulations, you got yourself another empty building,” she said. “We’re going somewhere that appreciates us.”

The ordinance, which takes effect in May, is intended to regulate flea market businesses, officials said. Other than zoning rules, McHenry does not have specific regulations governing flea markets.

“There is a cost to the city,” said Alderwoman Geri Condon. “It’s in the best interests of the community to have them licensed.”

Since fall, the city’s Community Development Committee has worked to spell out licensing and operation rules. The committee initially focused on imposing daily fees on individual vendors, but flea market operators said such fees were excessive.

Flea market operators can pay the $1,400 license fee in a lump sum or in four quarterly installments of $350. The ordinance also requires operators to provide proof of applicable federal and state licenses before receiving a McHenry license to operate.

“The $1,400 [license fee] isn’t even to recoup sales taxes,” Condon said. “It’s to cover staff costs of administration and making sure everything is run properly.”

However, the Eckels and Richard Collier, manager of the Fox River Flea Market, said the ordinance will not only hurt their business, but the local economy as well.

“We bring people from out of town [into McHenry],” Jennifer Eckel said.

A flea market, according to the city, is defined as “any business activities commonly known as but not limited to swap shops, penny markets, rummage sales, and where tangible articles are bought, sold or exchanged by more than one vendor, not otherwise regulated in the City of McHenry Municipal Code.” Resale and secondhand shops and garage sales are exempt.

Eckel’s McHenry Flea Market, 3705 W. Elm St., currently has about 35 vendors working the site, with space for 50 additional vendors. At Fox River Flea Market, 3017 W. Route 120, the number of vendors fluctuates between about 40 to 70 throughout the year. Both markets operate only on the weekends.

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