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I Tried To Make Some Money For College By Shining Shoes In DC. The Government Saw It Differently.


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 IJR Opinion is an opinion platform and any opinions or information put forth by contributors are exclusive to them and do not represent the views of IJR.

I’m 18, I am a freshman at American University, and the government won’t allow me to make a little money – unless I pay them $1,537.

In a country that is supposed to promote free enterprise and economic opportunity, it is already hard to start a business, but as a college student paying over $40,000 a year for school in Washington D.C. it seems nearly impossible.

With a shoe shine kit prepared with fresh polish, clean cloth, and a nice footrest for the customer, the only thing that stopped me from shining shoes in the heart of the nation’s capital was the government. As I was ready to make my way downtown, I checked online to see if I needed to get a vendor’s license first, but it turns out that I needed a whole lot more.

According to the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, my small one-man shoe shine start-up would have to:

  1. Comply with 83 pages of regulation
  2. Complete the Certificate of Clean Hands Form (which access to is denied to online)
  3. Get a Resident Agent or Attorney-in-Fact who lives or works in D.C. to be the official recipient of any financial, process, or legal notices sent from the government because I am not an official resident in the district.
  4. Obtain a vendors license that must be renewed every two years that costs $337
  5. Obtain a sidewalk permit at a cost of $1,200 and must be approved by the D.C. Department of Transportation.

When I called the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs for more information on how to start my small shoe shine operation, I was informed that not only would I need to make an appointment with them to start processing the paperwork, and pay over $1500 in fees for a permit and licensing, but there is usually a six month wait time just to get approval.

But let’s assume that somehow, as a college student paying $40,000 a year to get a degree from a school 400 miles away from home, I have $337 for the license, $1200 for a site permit, and six months to start my shoe shine business. At a price of eight dollars a pair with an added bonus of a two-dollar tip from each customer, it wouldn’t even make economic sense to start it. I would need to shine over 153 pairs of shoes just to start making a profit – probably more factoring in transportation costs on the metro system to get to and from my permitted place of practice.

How is government supposed to encourage young people like me with enormous student loans to become new entrepreneurs when they are being bombarded with regulations and fees that they can’t afford from the start? The government is already preventing me from making money while still in college to start paying off my student debt. The $337 fee just to get a license for my shoe shine business alone was enough to keep me from shining shoes on Capitol Hill. With the threat of a $2,000 fine looming over my head for shining shoes without a license, it simply wasn’t worth risking it.

My experience with the government preventing me from making money to get through college is just another example of how government regulation is hurting America’s students and entrepreneurs. My story is just one example on how it is becoming increasingly difficult for Americans to succeed in a country with a massive government that is imposing costly taxes and regulations on today’s small business owners. With businesses and companies becoming more and more regulated each year, it’s amazing how some small businesses can survive. It’s painful to think about the number of small-businesses like mine that never start because of government policies making it unfeasible and unaffordable – especially for a college student.