Hot dog vendor gets a hearing with his beef over county regulation Blind man unable to comply with law

August 18, 1991|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

Ken Canterbery has never thought of himself as a champion of rights for the handicapped.

He just wants to sell some hot dogs.

But when he set up his hot dog cart last May near a Dundalk sandwich shop, the annoyed shop owner found a long-ignored provision in the Baltimore County Code that requires hucksters to keep moving as they sell their wares.

Mr. Canterbery, who is legally blind, admits he wasn't doing that. When the shop owner pressed his complaint, police were forced to shut him down.

"I hated leaving that spot. I grew up in that area, people knew me and I was kind of hurt that I couldn't work there," said Mr. Canterbery, a 1967 graduate of Patapsco High School in Dundalk.

Mr. Canterbery, who is treasurer of the Baltimore County Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, sought help from the organization.

The lobbying efforts led Councilman William A. Howard IV, R-6th, to propose legislation last week to exempt the blind and the handicapped from the provision that they "keep continuously moving" as long as their carts are 15 feet from the nearest restaurant or retail food outlet.

The measure is scheduled to be discussed by the Baltimore County Council next month, but Mr. Howard said that in informal talks with other council members so far it has been favorably received.

"The difference here is that sighted people can keep moving or, frankly, can watch out for the police if there's a complaint about them not moving," he said. "This is basically giving him the same rights as everyone else."

Sharon Maneki, president of the Maryland chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, said the legislation is a kind of civil rights measure for the handicapped -- one that will open up doors for other blind people looking for a way to make a living.

She said 70 percent of Maryland's 10,000 blind people are either unemployed or underemployed.

"This initially arose because Mr. Canterbery was seen as unfair competition, but I think there's enough work out there for everybody," Mrs. Maneki said.

Eleni Filippakis, who with her husband manages the Holiday Foods sub shop in Dundalk, disagrees. It was the Filippakises' complaints that forced Mr. Canterbery to leave his spot near the Dundalk Post Office.

The Filippakises say they've been in business 14 years, and each year it gets harder to make a living because of increased operating costs.

"We've got a lot of competition as it is," she said. "He's not paying any rent. We have to pay rent; we have to pay gas and the electric bills. We sell hot dogs too. It's not fair."

Mr. Canterbery counters that what he's doing is giving the public a chance to choose their tube steak. "There's competition everywhere. You see a McDonald's right next to a Hardee's, and it's good business," he said. "It gives the buyers a freedom of choice."

Mr. Canterbery says he made about $45,000 a year as a car salesman for Rob Ryan Chevrolet in Timonium before diabetes forced him to undergo a pancreas transplant and took his vision five years ago. He has no vision in his left eye. His right eye vision is 20-200 and makes the world "look as if I'm looking through wax paper."

For some people, such a setback would be devastating. For Mr. Canterbery it just meant a career change.

In 1986, Mr. Canterbery, who is married and the father of two children, started the business when he won a $7,000 grant and secured a $3,000 loan from Opportunities for the Blind, a national group that works to help the blind.

"When I started back years ago in Essex, I was one of the only [hot dog vendors] around. Now it's gotten more competitive," he said.

Mr. Canterbery has temporarily set up his cart at a Rosedale construction site and near the State Employees Credit Union building on La Salle Road in Towson, where a competitor asked him to fill in while he was away.

Mr. Canterbery says he earns about $15,000 a year selling hot dogs (franks $1, Polish hot dogs $1.75).

Most customers cannot tell he is blind. He is nimble-fingered with the hot dogs, quick with the change and friendly with the banter.

"How 'bout them Orioles, huh? Won five in a row," he told a JTC preschooler in cut-offs yesterday as he handed him a chili dog.

He works year-round and doesn't mind the cold or heat. The biggest problem is the wind. A mild wind can turn inside out the beach umbrella that shades his cart. A strong wind can threaten to topple the cart.

Once the law is passed, he says, he hopes to return to his old spot in Dundalk -- albeit at least 15 feet away from the sub shop.

"I want to be able to go back there and say, 'OK, I'm here. I'm here legally now, and you can't throw me off,' " he said.

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