Conn. town shuts down teen's nightcrawler sales
CROMWELL, Conn. (AP) -- For the last three summers, 13-year-old Joey Cadieux has headed outside with his flashlight on rainy nights to collect nightcrawlers from his yard.
Purchased by passing fishermen for $2.50 a dozen, the wriggling worms brought him $7 to $10 in a good month, just enough for bike trips to his favorite neighborhood pizza joint.
But when a town official recently objected to his stenciled black-and-white "nite crawlers" yard sign, Joey's business got the hook.
The move has set off a flurry of protests from residents of this suburban central Connecticut town who have been calling and e-mailing officials to stick up for the budding entrepreneur.
Joey, a quiet teen who starts high school in a few weeks, is uncomfortable with the controversy and just wants to start earning some pizza money again.
"It's so weird," he said. "I only make a few bucks a month if I'm lucky. I don't know why it's a big deal."
The brouhaha started in July when Al Diaz, a town Planning and Zoning Commission member, mentioned during a meeting that the sign did not conform with Cromwell's rules and should come down. A town zoning officer sent a letter last month ordering Joey's stepfather, August Reil, to take down the sign and stop selling nightcrawlers.
"I actually laughed when I opened it. I couldn't believe they were serious," Reil said.
But they are. If Joey's sign, now hidden from passing motorists, goes back up, the family could face penalties for violating town zoning rules.
"In a residential zone, if you want to put up a business and work out of your home you really need a special permit," Diaz told The Hartford Courant in a story published Friday. "You come before the commission and state your case ... and then a decision is made. Chiropractors do that, lawyers do that, doctors do that, and then you're allowed to put up a sign."
However, in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday, Diaz said that other town officials overreacted to his inquiry and that he will ask the board to rescind the order when it meets again in September.
That would let Joey sell the worms again, but if the sign is illegal, he might have to find other ways to reach his audience.
"I had no idea there was a 13-year-old kid there," Diaz said. "I certainly don't want to put a kid out of business. I never intended that at all."
Meanwhile, however, the ban remains in effect.
Reil could plead his case to the Zoning Board of Appeals, but would have to pay a $130 filing fee -- something he refuses to do, both on cost and principle.
"I pay thousands and thousands of dollars in taxes, so why should we have to pay to appeal something we didn't even know we were doing wrong?" he asked Friday.
Cromwell First Selectman Paul Beaulieu, who has fielded dozens of complaints from residents about the issue, is among those who support Joey's right to sell worms.
"I would hope that reason would prevail, and that both lemonade stands and nightcrawler signs are seen as part of summertime traditions here in central Connecticut," Beaulieu said. "I don't consider nightcrawler sales to be a major operation. We're not talking General Motors here."
Town Planner Craig Minor said he would argue on Joey's behalf if the issue comes before the town's zoning appeals board.
He believes the boy's endeavor is similar to a farm stand, which doesn't require regulation, or activities like holding barbecues or building tree houses that are "customary and incidental to homeownership," he said.
While the issue is hashed out, the only clear winners -- Joey's inventory -- are wriggling through rich dirt in the family's basement, in a wooden box labeled "Joe Worms."
YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING, RIGHT???
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