Teens aged 17 and 18 will likely be able to legally sell palmetto roses downtown pretty soon, thanks to a proposal from a city committee charged with reviewing the rules after a 16-year-old rose seller was arrested last summer.
On Thursday, Charleston City Council gave first reading to a proposal that would extend the maximum age of children who can participate in the city's "Palmetto Artisan Program" from 16 to 18.
Currently, children as young as 9 can join the training program.
The change stems from recommendations made by a 25-member task force assembled weeks after a 16-year-old palmetto rose seller was arrested
following a physical altercation with a Charleston police officer near the City Market in July 2018.
The proposal is one of five that the task force plans to introduce to City Council in the coming month.
"That’s the first step of many things that will be occurring with that particular project," said Ruth Jordan, the city's minority business enterprise director who was also part of the task force.
City Council created the Palmetto Artisan Program in 2007 after complaints from Market vendors about business disruptions and the long hours some children seemed to work.
Today, kids and teens between the ages of nine and 16 must complete a business course and obtain a parent's consent to legally sell the folded palmetto fronds at one of four official city kiosks, located at Aquarium Wharf, Market Street, the U.S. Custom House, and Waterfront Park.
Jordan says that raising the age limit will allow teens who have been selling roses for a while to continue to develop their entrepreneurial skills until they're either 18 or graduated from high school.
"Part of this age piece is that we know, at age 16, there is no off-ramp for those young people," she said. "I talked to a young man on the street on Monday night and he said, 'I go to West Ashley High, I’m 16,' I said, 'Why aren’t you on the program?' He said, 'I'm 16. I'm aged out.'"
Though the teen could still legally participate in the program, Jordan says the current rules create confusion, which explains why the child thought it better to continue selling the crafts without a permit from the city.
"That has been a miscommunication and a disconnect," she said.
In October, the city quietly replaced street signs that referred to the young sellers as "roaming peddlers."
The new signs simply point pedestrians to "authorized kiosk" locations.