Like working couples everywhere, Ben and Melinda Crandall rise early, nudge their children along to school, tackle whatever household chores time permits and then dash off to work.

But in their case, the daily commute is a short one - down the stairs to their basement businesses.The Crandalls are among a growing number of businesspeople in Utah who have found that there's no place like home for sewing, servicing, selling, styling, consulting, catering, computing or just about any other commercial enterprise, however humble.

A Deseret News survey shows that about a third of all business licenses along the Wasatch Front are issued to home occupations. And the percentage may be even higher, according to licensing officials, because many home-based enterprises operate without a permit.

Melinda Crandall, who has maintained a licensed beauty salon at her Centerville home for three years, says a home-based business offers tax advantages, lower operating costs, convenience and - for working parents - the benefits of being there for the children.

"I'm able to run a full-time business and still run a household," she said.

However, she stresses the importance of keeping the two activities separate, saying, "I keep it professional, and my children know that when the salon door is shut that they don't come in unless it's an emergency."

The practice has critics, who argue that home businesses represent unfair competition against the traditional "main street and strip mall" shops and that they adversely affect residential neighborhoods.

Crandall argues that taking advantage of the financial benefits that home occupations have to offer simply makes good business sense. And she says her salon has a separate entrance, no sign, and never more than two customers at a time, all in compliance with Centerville's regulations.

There are four other home businesses on her street, she said, noting that none would have been allowed if any neighbor within a 300-foot radius objected.

While as many as a third of all home businesses fail, most succeed and some grow too big for a basement office. Ben Crandall's graphic design business, for example, will soon be moving to a Bountiful commercial district."I think many people want to test their businesses at home before investing in a regular office or shop," said Riverton City Recorder Sandra Lloyd. Almost 85 percent of the 250 businesses in her community are home-based.

"I think one of the main reasons we're getting so many of them is that small businesses can't afford commercial space," Lloyd said. The other big reason is that more working mothers are looking for a way to be with their young children while maintaining an income.

"It's definitely a growing trend," said Suzanne Lunt, West Valley City's license administrator. She said her office regularly gets more requests for information about home occupations than regular commercial businesses.

With West Valley's license comes restrictions: Business activity is limited to 25 percent of one floor; no more than two customers per hour allowed; all merchandise and equipment must be inside the home; only one business vehicle permitted, parked off the street; and a sign must be attached to the home and no larger than 2 square feet.

"We try to make sure that the business doesn't change the appearance of the home or the residential character of the neighborhood," Lunt explained, adding that the city relies on complaints for enforcement.

The fee in West Valley is $35 for a home enterprise doing up to $10,000 in business; $70 for those doing more. Salt Lake County's fees are the same, but it tacks on a one-time fee of $10 for home occupations.

County licensing officials said the number of home work permits seems to grow during tough economic times. Also, they said the upswing in home businesses appears to be a product of the computer age, with technical advancements - modems, computer filing, fax machines - making it possible for many people to do at home what once could be done only at the office.

Bob Bridge, Salt Lake City's licensing supervisor, said most license applications are for home occupations, but some never actually open for business and many - one-fourth to one-third - quickly fail.

Applicants must first meet with a zoning officer, and many are turned away or dissuaded at that stage of the process by the city's strict regulations, Bridge said.

"Basically, our restrictions are there to maintain the integrity of our residential neighborhoods," Bridge said.

Sandy charges $17.50 and $35. Lesley Casaril, Sandy's business license coordinator, said about a third of the ventures fail during the first year. Home-based janitorial businesses are common in Sandy, which also boasts a few uncommon business names: "Lactation Station" (supplies for nursing mothers) and "Curl Up and Dye" (a beauty salon).

Many of the home businesses in Bluffdale reflect that community's rural character, such as plant-care and floral-design operations, said City Recorder Connie Rice. Bluff-dale is one of several small towns that actually has more home businesses than regular commercial enterprises.

Almost 90 percent of the Fruit Heights' 70 businesses are located in private homes. Among them are a pie baker, artists, a roofer and entertainers.

Tony Murphy, South Jordan assistant city administrator, said home businesses make a valuable contribution to the community.

"Of course, we review them very carefully to ensure that they don't impact the residential areas," he added, explaining that the city restricts business-related traffic and activities, prohibits non-family employees and regulates the storage of inventory.

Clearfield officials are not as fond of home occupations, an attitude that may be reflected in the city's comparatively low percentage of home businesses. Only 137 of Clearfield's 728 business licenses are for home-based businesses, said Maxine Lay-ton, license officer.

However, she suspects that only about a third of such businesses are licensed.

"We hate it because they are creating traffic in the neighborhood. And it's not fair to people who have businesses downtown who have to pay leases and insurance and property taxes," she said.

In South Salt Lake and Midvale, communities with large business/in-dustrial cores, home businesses account for a relatively small percentage of the licenses, 3 percent and 11 percent, respectively. Among the home occupations in South Salt Lake are violin repair and hypnotherapy.

Preschools and child day care are the most common types of home occupations in Farmington, but the community also has home-based consultants, boutiques and sales offices. The city doesn't allow home commercial signs, and it limits day-care operations to no more than seven children.

Kaysville has just enacted a new ordinance categorizing and governing home occupations. A business that has no impact on the community is considered "minor" and is eligible for a license upon application. The Planning Commission must approve licenses for "major" home occupations, those that may draw clients and traffic to the neighborhood.

A "rural" home occupation license permits a business in a separate building, such as an office or a shop.

Layton officials report that computer-related activities, especially software programming, are the big "growth industry" in home occupations.

Many home businesses are nothing more than a mailing address and an answering machine for outside activities. Independent contractors, plumbers, landscapers and other tradespeople have home bases, but work elsewhere.


(Additional information)

Business licenses

Home Commercial

Bluffdale 53 30

Bountiful 275 825

Centerville 150 100

Clearfield 137 591

Farmington 208 52

Fruit Heights 63 7

Kaysville 176 141

Layton 560 840

Midvale 96 800

Murray 216 1000

Riverton 212 48

Salt Lake City 2,000 9000

Salt Lake County1,600 6400

Sandy 600 600

South Jordan 126 68

South Salt Lake 51 1600

West Jordan 586 392

West Valley 245 246

Total 7,354 22,740