Automatically viewing mobile food vendors (food trucks) as a negative for our community is so last-century.
In the late 1980s, there were problems with a few of the mobile food vendors who pulled into town for festivals. Maybe they didn’t have the cleanest-looking rigs, or maybe they parked in places that caused some traffic congestion. Maybe we resented the fact that they were “from off” and we didn’t want them loading up that wagon with our money and hauling it back home without so much as a thank you.
There should be a law!
And there was – first in 1987, an ordinance to prohibit vendors during festivals except in the spots behind the courtsquare designated for non-profits (thus assuring local organizations and churches could still operate). This lasted two years until a local businessman protested because his food vendor operation had to be shut down during the weekends with most potential for profit.
In 1990, the vendor ordinance was re-drafted to limit food vendors to location (the spaces behind the courthouse) and timing (festivals and special events). That set-up worked for years with little fuss. The eight spaces were divided between commercial and non-profit vendors and they reserved positions through the Chamber of Commerce for the three major festivals, and occasionally there would be vendors for some other event.
It took a pandemic to shake up the system. The city wisely suspended the ordinance during the state’s emergency declaration, which expired at the end of May. One or two food trucks operated within the city during that time, providing food options at a time when many restaurants were closed and others were limited to carry-out.
One of the vendors now wishes to continue serving customers, but says he has not been able to get a response to his request to set up behind the courtsquare for weekends when special music programs would be valid “events” under the ordinance. Another business wants to invite food trucks in under long-term contracts to provide revenue for a restaurant remodel on the east end of town.
City council members are now questioning what to do, having no knowledge of why the ordinance was adopted in the first place. Luckily for them, those of us with easy access to nearly 70 years of newspaper archives can provide that.
Our advice: require vendors to show a health department certificate and sales tax permit and let them operate!
Let them set up wherever and whenever they want to, and let public demand sort out the rest. Continue to charge a premium for the spots on the courtsquare where utilities are accessible. If we must balance the scale a bit in fairness to brick-and-mortar restaurants that operate year-round, charge a substantial permit fee elsewhere, too. Anything more qualifies as protectionism.
There are now at least five locally owned food trucks, so the idea that they are only taking away from our community is no longer valid.
They are part of our community, and they deserve to be able to operate.