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Where Trump Goes, Vendors Follow... And Fight For Space

Ronny Salerno
A vendor set up a merchandise booth under U.S. Bank Arena at Broadway and Pete Rose Way on Wednesday afternoon.

President Donald Trump returns to Cincinnati Thursday. His arrival is expected to be accompanied by a slew of small businesses. Itinerant vendors pop up around every modern presidential rally, and the mobile sellers are typically seen in force around a Trump visit.

During a campaign visit at the Warren County Fairgrounds in October 2018, there were more than two dozen vendors in Lebanon, selling flags, pins, t-shirts, and hats.

A Cincinnati vendor has some concerns he says go beyond simple competition. Tom Hagins says the city is at risk by not enforcing the laws about peddling and vending.

Hagins has been a street vendor in Cincinnati for 25 years. He is operating three stands right now, at prime locations around Great American Ball Park. He and his employees also work other big games and events at Paul Brown Stadium and U.S. Bank Arena.

He's concerned about Thursday’s rally. "The last time Trump visited Cincinnati in 2016, there were dozens and dozens of illegal vendors working on top of the plaza level outside U.S. Bank Arena. This is a no-vending zone. It's basically for safety concerns."

Hagins says the plaza, and the rest of the area around U.S. Bank Arena will be crowded with those attending the rally, protesters, and vendors. "If a citizen trips and falls or is injured by an illegal vendor, that person certainly isn't going to sue the illegal vendor who doesn't have deep pockets. He will sue U.S. Bank Arena and the city. It's basically a liability issue for the city."

There's also the matter of competition. City code says vendors must have a license. Hagins says his operation is licensed, and his employees have had to fight for their usual spots. He says Tuesday night, an unlicensed vendor with Trump memorabilia tried to set up at Main and Second. An officer had to tell that person to leave.

"To be a licensed vendor in the city of Cincinnati you have to have an assigned vending location. You can't just set up where ever you want. That keeps everything nice and orderly," Hagins says.

Hagins is a vocal Trump critic on Twitter, and says he's not trying to cause trouble. His employees will be working outside U.S. Bank Arena Thursday. "Everybody is entitled to their own opinion. I don't agree with the president's policies," he says. "I don't want you to think I'm a hypocrite. Business first. We will be selling Trump merchandise. We will be selling water too."

He’s asking police to enforce the local statutes on vending. Hagins says he expects the traveling vendors to resist. “The law’s the law. Just because it’s inconvenient doesn’t mean it’s a reason to ignore it,” he says.

Cincinnati Police will be dealing with security at U.S. Bank Arena, crowd control and traffic outside Thursday. The department did not respond to a request for comment by publication time.