HONOLULU — The T-shirt-laden tables that once cluttered Waikiki are now gone, after a federal appeals court upheld the city's efforts to sweep peddlers off the sidewalks of this tourist mecca.
Nonprofit groups had argued that selling T-shirts was a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment. For $20, tourists could scoop up five T-shirts, bearing messages such as, "Take It Easy, Meditate, Hang Loose Hawaii." But city officials were appalled by the flea-market atmosphere, and local merchants groused about unfair competition from the tax-free, rent-free vendors. In a 2-to-1 ruling last month, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the city, upholding an ordinance banning peddling on the streets of Waikiki.
The judges noted the city's "substantial interest" in keeping the resort area attractive and supporting local businesses. The court concluded that peddlers have other ways to communicate their message, from handing out leaflets to selling their wares in retail stores.
At one point, tables piled high with T-shirts lined Kalakaua Avenue, Waikiki's main boulevard, but in 1994, a lower court restricted the vendors to side streets. The new ruling applies to all of Waikiki, a 500-acre district that attracts as many as 60,000 visitors a day.