North Myrtle Beach rental outfit, city continue beach fight

A North Myrtle Beach rental business at odds with the city over its laws barring private commerce on the beach has filed a lawsuit in federal court, their attorney told The Sun News on Monday.

Cherry Grove Beach Gear says a 2007 ordinance that gives the city or authorized franchisee exclusive rights to set up rental equipment is unconstitutional. Richard Snyder, a North Myrtle Beach-based lawyer representing the company, confirmed the court filing but declined to provide a copy of the lawsuit pending its arrival at U.S. District Court.

North Myrtle Beach spokesman Donald Graham said the city doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

The company, launched in 2020 by Claire and Derek Calhoun, has been at the center of an ongoing dispute around a 2007 barring private commerce on beaches without a franchise agreement.

The Calhouns have twice asked city officials for a franchise so they can continue setting up rentals on the beach but have been denied.

Currently, the city has franchise agreements with three businesses that offer banana boats and parasailing. Graham said Cherry Grove won’t be considered as long as the company continues to dismiss the law.

“Previously, franchise operators providing rented chairs and umbrellas also furnished lifeguards. The city of North Myrtle Beach assumed the responsibility of this service when the quality of lifeguard training and certification proved to be inadequate. Safety on the beach is of primary importance to the city,” Graham said in an email Monday.

City leaders say the zero-tolerance policy ensures tranquility by not turning North Myrtle Beach’s coveted sands into an open-air marketplace.

The Calhouns argue it’s designed to stifle competition — and are willing to literally pay the price because of it, racking up $4,000 in fines since last month.

“It is somewhat of a political statement,” Claire Calhoun said. “Our attorneys and we ourselves feel this is an unconstitutional ordinance.”

Cherry Grove is the second business to sue the city in federal court since last week. Sky Bar on Main Street is suing North Myrtle Beach over noise control laws owner Michael Moshoures says violates his First Amendment rights.

After a July 6 City Council meeting where officials made clear they had no plans to revisit the ordinance, Cherry Grove Beach Gear took to its Facebook page with a 30-day beach rental package for Mayor Marilyn Hatley.

City-managed rentals are a revenue stream that officials say helps keep taxes down and pay for lifeguards and beach patrols.

North Myrtle Beach employs 49 lifeguards that make between $15 and $17 an hour.

In the 2022 budget, officials allocated $2.6 million in expected profits from the umbrella and chair rentals, with an additional $10,000 from food and drink purchases.

Customers can rent umbrellas through the city for $30 a day each. It costs $20 for chairs. Weekly rates are between $80 and $120, while seasonal prices — Memorial Day through Labor Day — are $900 for residents and $1,800 for visitors.

This story was originally published July 12, 2022 5:00 AM.

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