It's happened to all of us. One minute you're minding your own business on Lincoln Road, slaloming among septuagenarians with sugar babies on their wrinkly arms, or awkwardly grimacing at the toxically tan hostesses imploring you to look at monstrously large menus. The next you're caught in the tractor beam of a pretty young woman who just won't stop talking. She compliments your hair, your skin, your anything. And before you know it, you're inside a glitzy cosmetics store spending your month's salary.
Businessmen call it "a hard sell." But the City of Miami Beach calls it a code violation. And in the past three years, inspectors have slapped a trio of cosmetics companies with thousands of dollars in fines for the questionable practice.
The companies, however, insist they are simply exercising their constitutional right to free speech. Now they've turned the tables on the city by suing in federal court.
The pas de deux dates back to 2011. That's when the City of Miami Beach began fining three Lincoln Road companies for aggressive advertising.
According to city records, Brilliance New York (631 Lincoln Rd.) has been fined 15 times during that period for a total of $2,975. Timeless Cosmetics (947 Lincoln Rd.) has been penalized 14 times for $3,750. And Forever Flawless (704 Lincoln Rd.) has wracked up a whopping $4,750 bill for 19 violations since 2012.
On May 27, the city issued all three a warning threatening to revoke their business licenses if they didn't cut out the hard sells.
None of the companies responded to repeated requests for comment. Nor did their lawyers. But a lawsuit filed by the three in June makes their argument as loudly and clearly as any Lincoln Road sales pitch.
Take it away, lawyers: "Under [city code] an employee or contractor of one of the Plaintiffs could stand in front of a pedestrian, block his way, and shrilly shout in his face: 'You ugly moron, you have the skin of an iguana. If you had a brain in your head, you would slather on as much beauty cream as possible in the vain hope that someday, someone will love you...' However, if the same employee stood in the doorway of Plaintiff's store and said to passersby, in a soft and pleasant voice: 'This store has a great sale on beauty products, care to look?' that Plaintiff would be subject to fines and the eventual loss of its business license."
City spokesman Melissa Berthier said she could not comment on ongoing litigation but admitted aggressive advertising is an issue.
"The Art Deco Historic District, including the areas around Lincoln Road and Ocean Drive, is the economic engine of our community," she said. "Litter, harassment of visitors, and clogging pedestrian walkways are some of the many problems caused by unrestrained hawking on our public sidewalks."
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In a strange twist, the noisy standoff has suddenly gone quiet. The cosmetics companies have stayed their lawsuit "to allow consideration by the Miami Beach City Commission of legislative solutions." The process could take at least six months.
In the meantime, perhaps you'd like to take a look at this limited-edition line of sea urchin skin cream.