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Retail Business Licenses and Permits

Where to Find Them

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Knowing what licenses and permits your retail business needs can be very confusing when planning a new business. Each item requires time, energy and paperwork (depending on the government office you're dealing with) to obtain the proper registrations.

As unpleasant a task as it may be, don't risk your business shutting down before it fully begins. Conducting business without the proper licensing is a criminal offense in some states, while others hand out hefty fines. Here are some of the more common retail licenses and permits to keep your business operating legally.

Federal Tax Id

An Employer Identification Number (EIN) is also known as a Federal Tax Identification Number, and is used to identify a business entity. It costs nothing to apply for an EIN, it can be registered online, and most vendors will require a tax id before conducting business with a retailer.

Where to Find: IRS.gov

Business License

How and where you register a retailing business with the state will depend on your state's laws. To find out what is needed to obtain a business license in your state, start by visiting your state's official website. You can usually find it at www.Your State's Name.gov. Most states have resources on how to register a new business and all of the requirements that must be met.

If you have a retail business located within the city limits, you may also be required to purchase a local business license. Some counties and other municipalities also require a license. Call your county or city's clerk's office for more information. The fee varies depending on the type of business and where it is located.

Where to Find: www.Your State's Name.gov and the County or City Clerk's Office

Resale Certificate

In order to purchase products to resell and not pay sales tax, your business will need a resale license or certificate. Not all states require a sales license and each state has its own name for this type of license.

This type of business license will allow your store to buy goods tax exempt from a manufacturer or distributor. Then you collect the sales tax from the customer and pay it back to the state. Most vendors will request a copy of your resale certificate before doing business with your company.

Where to Find: www.Your State's Name.gov or the state's Dept. of Revenue

Business Name Registration or DBA Certificate

If you use any name for your retail business other than your own personal name, you'll need to file the appropriate paperwork. Some business licenses include a business name registration; others require a separate registration or a DBA (doing business as) certificate. When you file for a corporate business structure, a foreign or fictitious name application is generally included. Again, check your state's laws for more details.

Where to find: www.Your State's Name.gov

Professional Licenses

Some industry-specific retailers such as auctioneers, hair dressers, pharmacists, optometrists and other professionals may require state or local occupational licenses. If you're not sure you need an occupational license, check with your industry's trade association or your state's licensing department.

Where to find: State's Dept. of Licensing

Certificate of Occupancy

A certificate of occupancy may be required in some areas. After applying, the property is inspected by representatives of the necessary agencies. These may include the fire department inspector, the building inspector and the health and/or sanitation inspector.

Where to find: City and/or County Planning Dept., Health Dept. or Clerk's Office

Other Permits

There is no way to list all required permits, as the laws and regulations vary from place to place and from industry to industry. Check with local officials to find out what permits, if any, your retail business needs. Here are a few common permits to consider.

  • Alcohol & Tobacco Sales
  • Alarm System Permit
  • Building Construction
  • Health Permit
  • Signage
  • Special Events
  • Zoning

Before you open your doors to customers, be sure you've done the necessary research on retail business licenses and permits you need. Start filing the paperwork as soon as you can, expect delays and provide all the necessary information to avoid any problems opening your business. Consult with a business lawyer if you have any unusual circumstances or need further clarification on obtaining retailing licenses and permits.

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