No matter how bad the economy gets, governments at all levels will always put their own petty authority ahead of productive market activities. An example is the Batesville Store in rural Albermarle County, Virginia, which was closed — without notice or due process — by a local bureaucrat who decreed the store, which was being used primarily as a restaurant and live music venue, had too many seats. The store’s owners explained:
The Batesville Store is closed until further notice.
Earlier today two representatives from the state of Virginia showed up at the store without warning, informed us that we were not in compliance with certain state regulations, and gave us basically no choice except to close immediately.
This came as a complete shock to Liza and me. We believed that we had been operating in compliance with all state regulations since we opened in April of 2007, and we received no indication otherwise from anyone representing the state.
In fact, we have been inspected regularly by Warren Ollinger, the representative from the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services who is responsible for inspecting the store, and he has always given us favorable reports on our operation. He never suggested in any way that we would encounter what happened today. The two representatives who showed up this afternoon told us that Mr. Ollinger initiated the complaint and the subsequent review that led to the decision to close us down.
Jessica Jaglois of CBS 19 in Charlottesville added:
A store employee [said] that the reason behind the shutdown wasn’t a health issue, but a safety issue. He says the store had exceeded their seating capacity. A country store is allowed to have 15 total seats by law, but The Batesville Store has over 40. The employee was frustrated saying that the Health Department hadn’t given them a warning.
The problem, as Waldo Jaquith noted, is that Virginia officials classify the Batesville Store as a “country store,” which legally restricts their business to certain government-defined functions. Unfortunately, the store’s owners chose to serve their customers instead of the bureaucrats, and now everyone will pay the price:
As you know from yesterday’s email, the state has given us no option except to close The Batesville Store.
For the past five years, we’ve attempted to serve the community by keeping this classic, historic country store alive and thriving. Ironically, our success has proven to be our undoing.
Although we have always operated with an eye toward Virginia State Health Department guidelines (and have never been cited for a health code violation of any kind), we were in fact defined by the state as a country store and thus fell under the governance of the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. We were regularly inspected by the Ag Department and were never informed of any significant problems with our operations.
However, the state representatives who suddenly appeared yesterday afternoon and shut us down without warning told us that it was decided (note the passive voice, please) that we do too much business to remain a country store. They went on to say that our only option for remaining open was to convert the store into a restaurant that would comply with all Virginia Health Department regulations.
Our kitchen is basically in compliance with Health Department regulations now. But the legalities of the store’s historic status as well as the limitations of the building itself make it impossible for us to meet the state’s other requirements for operating a restaurant.
We would have to make a host of changes in the facility to stay open legally, but because of a combination of the law and practical realities, we cannot make those changes.
So much to our regret, we are closing The Batesville Store …
No doubt Thomas Jefferson, Albemarle County’s most famous former resident, is beaming with pride at how the government he helped to establish has crushed a small business for the greater glory of the state health department.