At 74, this Rose hasn’t lost her thorns.
Five years after landing in the slammer for illegally selling “exotic melon” lipstick to an undercover cop, Rose Christmann - North Idaho’s outlaw Avon lady - is headed back to court.
Next week, the great-grandmother will be asked to explain to a judge why he should not hold her in contempt.
She has been selling cosmetics from her home for 10 months in violation of a court order.
City laws ban commercial activity in residential neighborhoods without a permit.
“I needed money,” the silver-haired saleswoman said Thursday. “That seemed as good a reason as any.”
In January 1995, a Coeur d’Alene judge demanded Christmann close her shop to walk-in customers.
Christmann tore up his order without reading it, but she shut her doors. She returned to the more traditional traveling cosmetics beat.
She also mailed 20 city and county leaders and her own attorney legal-looking papers demanding they each pay her $25 million in gold or silver bullion for violating her civil rights.
It’s a common patriot and militia group tactic, but Christmann said she was just misled.
“They came to me and thought they could help,” she said. “But they’re just after money like everybody else.”
Six months later, however, Christmann was snubbing her powdered nose at the law once again.
“My legs just couldn’t take climbing in and out of my truck anymore,” said Christmann, who has peddled her creams and lotions since World War II. “So I came back here. What was I supposed to do?”
The battle between Christmann and the city of Coeur d’Alene has been brewing eight years.
“It’s a little ridiculous that it’s gotten this far,” Mayor Al Hassell said Thursday. “But she’s blatantly breaking the law.”
In 1988, city leaders denied her request to run a retail Avon shop out of her home. In 1989, she reapplied, but was denied again.
“They were trying to preserve that residential area,” said city planning director Dave Yadon. “There’s a barber shop on the corner, but if you let another commercial use in, when does it stop?”
The widow installed the tiny Avon store in her home anyway.
The city retaliated with a half-dozen undercover operations. Police, a building official’s wife and a receptionist each went into the store and bought single items from the hundreds of boxes of lipstick, shampoos and knick-knacks on Christmann’s shelves.
A pair of unanswered citations later, Christmann was jailed in 1991, but collapsed from claustrophobia and left in an ambulance after only a few hours.
Nationwide, Christmann’s jail stint provoked outrage.
Two months later, the city still was fielding angry calls from as far away as Phoenix and Washington, D.C. Christmann even told her tale to Maureen O’Boyle, host of “A Current Affair” in a story titled “Sting-So-Soft.”
That spring, a bargain was struck. Christmann signed a pledge to only make telephone sales.
But the next day, Christmann claimed she signed “under duress.” Frustrated city leaders backed off and an emboldened Christmann paved her yard for parking.
In fall 1993, a pair of city planning commissioners filed new complaints that led to another undercover operation - the purchase of a $9.40 (with tax) bottle of cologne - and last year’s court hearing.
Christmann faxed the court a notice that she couldn’t make it that day. The judge was unsympathetic.
“It’s getting to the point where people don’t think they have to follow rules any more,” Hassell said.
Christmann isn’t ready to close shop again, even though she could face fines or more jail time.
“I’m so bull-headed, I’m going to stick in there until I die,” she said. “I’m not going to crawl for anybody. This is what I do. It’s what I am.”
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