Even when he was younger, Dale Layman knew he was going to be an entrepreneur. He recalls the first "sale" he made as a child: a chair out of his bedroom. When his parents returned home, they weren't quite pleased with deal he'd made, but his future business ventures turned out to be much more successful.

"I've done this all my life," said Layman, who is the owner of Layman's Antique Mall and Flea Market in downtown Newton. The shop now has been open for business for a decade.

He likes to display some of his merchandise on the sidewalk outside his store to draw customers' attention, and he said his store's wares have attracted visitors from across the country, even as far away as Alaska.

Layman is advocating the city continue to allow downtown businesses to set up displays on sidewalks — an issue recently discussed by the Newton City Commission.

City Attorney Bob Myers reported to the commission that existing city ordinances prohibit any use of public sidewalks to display goods and merchandise. Private benches and seating also are not allowed.

However, the city has experimented with giving business owners some leeway, such as allowing them to put out signs on the sidewalks, set out tables and chairs for dining, and display a limited amount of merchandise.

Myers said while displays can show "vibrancy and activity" in the downtown business district, some people have said too many items on downtown sidewalks can make the area appear cluttered and may not allow enough room for pedestrian use and people getting in and out of their cars.

He has studied some of the downtown sidewalk regulations of other cities. Lawrence does allow sidewalk signs, sidewalk sales (with a permit) and sidewalk dining. The sidewalk sales require a fee of $10 for each day of the sale, and businesses offering sidewalk dining areas must pay a fee of $3.50 per square foot per year.

Manhattan also offers annual permits for outside displays of merchandise and sidewalk dining areas. The permits cost $100.

Layman said he hopes the city will continue to allow downtown businesses to make use of the sidewalks. He said he works hard to make sure there is enough room for wheelchairs and that his store is ADA accessible. He said the majority of customers have reported they enjoy seeing the merchandise outside the store.

"'I've never, ever been in such a nice place as this,'" he said one customer told him.