How to Start a Business in Oxford

ZONING VERIFICATION & BUSINESS INSPECTION. When starting a business, it is essential to verify if a location is zoned for the type of business that you would like to start. To determine this, you can access our zoning map here, or you must request a zoning verification letter from the OXFORD BUILDING DEPARTMENT. All potential businesses are required to fill out a business inspection form. After the building department receives a business inspection form, a building inspector and the fire inspector will contact the applicant to schedule an on-site inspection. Upon approval, the applicant will be issued a certificate of occupancy.

BUILDING PERMITS. Required from the OXFORD BUILDING DEPARTMENT to ensure federal life safety standards. Building permits cover everything from minor building improvements to new developments. If you are considering making any changes to your building or property, please contact the building department before doing any work or purchasing materials. If changes cost more than $500, including materials and labor, a permit will be required.

FIRE MARSHAL INSPECTION. The fire marshal from the OXFORD FIRE DEPARTMENT works with the building department to inspect fire protection, including work to sprinkler systems, alarm systems, commercial kitchen hoods, and mobile food units.


BUSINESS LICENSE. Business licenses are required to start a business in Oxford and must be renewed annually every January. The type of business and business classification determines the license fee. Contact the OXFORD FINANCE DEPARTMENT for assistance in determining your business license classification. Business licenses are only issued after approval from the business inspection. Photo identification is required. If an applicant is engaged in an activity that requires a license through the State of Alabama Licensing Board, a copy of the license must also be submitted. Examples include, but are not limited to, general contractors, physicians, restaurants, automobile dealers, landscape contractors, auctioneers, home builders, electricians, plumbers, security alarm installation, HVAC contractors, pest control, cosmetologists, etc.


18 Steps to Starting Your Business

  1. CONDUCT MARKET RESEARCH. Market research will tell if there’s an opportunity to turn your idea into a successful business. It’s a way to gather information about potential customers and businesses already operating in your area. Use that information to find a competitive advantage for your business.
  2. GET BUSINESS ASSISTANCE & TRAINING. There are local, state, and national agencies and organizations that are available to assist entrepreneurs and existing businesses with resources and training.
  3. WRITE YOUR BUSINESS PLAN. Your business plan is the foundation of your business. It’s a roadmap for how to structure, run, and grow your new business. You’ll use it to convince people that working with you — or investing in your company — is an intelligent choice. This is also essential if you are requesting funding from a financial institution.
  4. SECURE FUNDING FOR YOUR BUSINESS. Your business plan will help you determine how much money you’ll need to start your business. If you don’t have that amount, you’ll need to raise or borrow the capital. Fortunately, there are more ways than ever to find the capital you need.
  5. PICK YOUR BUSINESS LOCATION. Your business location is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. Whether you’re setting up a brick-and-mortar business or launching an online store, the choices you make could affect your taxes, legal requirements, and revenue. Don’t commit to purchasing/leasing any property without first consulting zoning and coding officials.
  6. CHOOSE A BUSINESS STRUCTURE. The legal structure you choose for your business will impact your business registration requirements, how much you pay in taxes, and your personal liability. A Limited Liability Company (LLC) provides the owner with personal asset protection from the debts and liabilities of the company. As a side note, there is an annual Business Privilege Tax associated with an LLC.
  7. CHOOSE YOUR BUSINESS NAME. It’s not easy to pick the perfect name. You’ll want one that reflects your brand and captures your spirit. You’ll also want to ensure your business name isn’t already used by someone else.
  8. REGISTER YOUR BUSINESS. Once you’ve picked the perfect business name, it’s time to make it legal and protect your brand. If you’re doing business under a name different from your own, you’ll need to register with the federal government and maybe your state government, too.
  9. GET FEDERAL AND STATE TAX IDS. You’ll use your Employer Identification Number (EIN) for essential steps to start and grow your business, like opening a bank account and paying taxes. It’s like a social security number for your business. An EIN can be obtained through the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website. A state tax number is applicable for businesses that will be required to collect and submit sales tax, as well as businesses that intend to pay state taxes online. Check with the Alabama Department of Revenue (ADOR) for further information.
  10. APPLY FOR LICENSES AND PERMITS. Keep your business running smoothly by staying legally compliant. The licenses and permits you need for your business will vary by industry, state, location, and other factors.
  11. OPEN A BUSINESS BANK ACCOUNT. A small business checking account can help you handle legal, tax, and day-to-day issues. The good news is it’s easy to set one up if you have the right registrations and paperwork ready. Never mix business and personal funds or income.
  12. SET UP YOUR BUSINESS ACCOUNTING / BOOKKEEPING. Determine if you will hire a bookkeeper, outsource your bookkeeping to an accounting firm, or keep your books and records. There are inexpensive bookkeeping software options.
  13. SELECT AN ACCOUNTANT AND ATTORNEY. This is to already have professionals in place before/if any legal or tax matters arise.
  14. OBTAIN BUSINESS LIABILITY INSURANCE. This can usually be provided by the insurance agency you already use for auto/homeowners’ insurance.
  15. ENSURE YOU COMPLY WITH GOVERNMENT REQUIREMENTS. This includes OSHA, permits specific to your industry, workers’ compensation, and payroll taxation requirements (unemployment, workers, self-employment tax, withholding tax, etc.)
  16. UNDERSTAND EMPLOYER RESPONSIBILITIES. Responsibility drives business results. Per law, employers have the responsibility to provide a safe workplace for all employees. All employers must understand and know these laws. The U.S. Department of Labor and the Alabama Department of Labor can be valuable assets when understanding responsibilities.
  17. FIND LOCAL ASSISTANCE. The City of Oxford prides itself on being business friendly. Other local resources include the Calhoun County Economic Development Council, the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, and the Jacksonville State University (SBDC) Small Business Development Center.
  18. MARKET YOUR BUSINESS. This includes creating business cards, logos, flyers, websites, etc., to market your product or service appropriately.


Source: U.S. Small Business Administration, JSU Small Business Development Center, City of Oxford

This is not a comprehensive list. Please consult business professionals for more information.

Added- April 2023

    Frequently Asked Questions- Finance Department

    • What taxes are administered by the City of Oxford Finance Department?
      • The State of Alabama collects Sales, Use, Rental, Lodging, and Liquor Taxes on behalf of the City of Oxford. Avenu Insights & Analytics collects the Gasoline Tax.


    • What are the tax rates?
      • Sales: General 5%, Automotive ½%
      • Use: General 4%, Automotive ½%
      • Rental: General 4%, Automotive 2%d
      • Lodging: 8%
      • Liquor: 7% of purchase price
      • Gasoline: 0.01% per gallon


    • When are taxes due?
      • Taxes are due by the 20th day of each month following the reporting period in which the tax is collected or accrued by the State of Alabama.


    • When is a City of Oxford Business License required?
      • A business license is required by any person or other entity before starting any service or business activity in the City of Oxford.

    Frequently Asked Questions- Building Department

    • When is a building permit required?
      • New building construction, renovations exceeding $500 (excluding ALL electrical work), or structural changes made to an existing building.

    Frequently Asked Questions- Fire Department

    • Is a fire sprinkler required?
      • A fire sprinkler system is required in the following situations:
      • restaurants with occupancy of over 99 persons
      • buildings with intended purposes of assembly, church, or auditorium that seat over 300 persons, buildings over 12,000 square feet, and buildings more than one level


    • How is “existing” defined?
      • To remodel a current building “existing” is defined as:
        • Same occupancy/business type
        • No structural changes are made
        • Less than 60% of the interior or exterior is altered


    • When are firewalls and fire doors required?
      • ​​​​​​​A firewall is used to divide a large, single building on the same lot into two or more areas (i.e. main assembly area and smaller meeting room), or to serve as a shared wall between two different businesses in a shared building (i.e. different suites).
        • ​​​​​​​The firewall must have vertical AND horizontal continuity unless an approved fire door is used. If fire doors are used, they must remain closed at all times or proper closing mechanisms are installed.


    • Are exit signs and illumination required?

      • Yes, exit signs and emergency lighting are required to guide occupants to the exits in an emergency. The signs and lighting must be hardwired and have an emergency backup in case of power outages.


    • When is a certified architect required?
      • Buildings over 2,500 square feet

      • All assembly, church, education, or auditorium occupancies

      • Multi-family residences

      • When is a life safety plan required?

      • A life safety plan is required on all new construction and may be required on existing buildings depending on the occupancy.

    Frequently Asked Questions- Main Street

    • What is Historic Main Street Oxford (HMSO)?
      • Historic Main Street Oxford (HMSO) is an economic and community development organization that focuses on the Four Point Approach strategy of Organization, Promotion, Design, and Economic Vitality as outlined by Main Street America. The Four Point Approach makes Main Street an effective tool for community-based, volunteer-driven, grassroots revitalization efforts.


    • What are the Historic Downtown Oxford boundaries?
      • The Historic Downtown Oxford boundaries house approximately 70 diverse businesses in the downtown district which encompasses approximately 10 square blocks, from Oak Street on the north to Snow Street on the south to the Norfolk Southern Railroad on the west to Alabama Highway 21/Quintard Drive on the east.


    • What kind of business can I open downtown?
      • There are multiple uses permitted by zoning within Historic Downtown Oxford. Generally, most of the downtown district is zoned as Central Business District (CBD). Please review our zoning ordinance for details.


    • How can I learn more about the downtown market?
      • Market data is available from Historic Main Street Oxford.


    • How can I find available commercial space downtown?
      • Available commercial space downtown can be found by contacting Historic Main Street Oxford Director Hunter Gentry. 

    Point of Contact

    Hunter Gentry
    145 Hamric Drive East
    Oxford, AL 36203

    Please contact Hunter Gentry for assistance for starting a business in Oxford or any other small business related matters or inquiries. 

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