Thursday, June 21, 2012

Food Trucks vs City of Somerville

A month or so back the city of Somerville began meetings and hearings to draft an ordinance that would allow food trucks to vend in certain parts of the city. Early on one of the biggest concerns was the competition trucks would bring to brick & mortar restaurants; the ordinance was supposed to help strike a balance between the interests and needs of brick & mortar restaurants, Somerville residents, and the potential food trucks.

Well, the Board of Aldermen met last week and pretty much laughed in the face of this country-wide trend. Saying, according to the Somerville Patch, "Food trucks throughout the city of Somerville is not an image that I think promotes what we want the city of Somerville to be. I don't think they do any public good" (Ward 1 Alderman William Roche). And citing irrelevant concerns, such as, Ward 2 Alderman Maryann Heuston "expressed concern about brick-and-mortar businesses, many of whom 'shelled out tens of thousand's of dollars for a liquor license and [are] paying so much in taxes every year.'" (from the Somerville Patch). Since food trucks won't be offering alcohol, they won't be taking that business away from the bars and restaurants who are paying for their liquor liscenses.

Though not everyone on the Board of Aldermen is against the idea of food trucks. As quoted from the same Somerville Patch article cited above, Ward 6 Alderman Rebekah Gewirtz said, "They are small businesses, they are innovators, they come into a community and bring something maybe that community does not have."

I truly think that food trucks would be an added value to the city of Somerville. And one of the things that really gets me going on this topic is the mis-information that is being tossed around by the politicians and business owners who oppose the idea.

For example, a commercial landlord in Somerville who has posted comments on a previous Somerville Patch article stating that he is against these trucks, said in response to the latest story:

"cp kostos: I'm totally against all food trucks unless they are part of an event in a public area. As a commercial property owner with a number of restaurants that provide a living and jobs for the local community, I vehemently oppose this concept. We have all types of food establishments in the city that pay their fair share of taxes, license fees, and water and sewer charges. Believe me, it's tough enough to make a living with the existing food establishments as fair competition so please, please, don't complicate this situation with food trucks. Most have no running water, fire suppression systems, which, by the way, need to be constantly inspected and replaced and monitored. Who will monitor the walk away trash that customers will toss on the streets a couple of hundred feet away? Who will be checking the cleanliness of the trucks and employees hands,no hand sinks? All this will be adding more people to the city payroll. And they will, after all this experimenting is over, put rent paying, tax paying businesses out of business. Think of the winter months when everyone of the legitimate business already struggle for patrons. I'm just saying!!!"

After reading this, I couldn't help but respond.

"Me: cp kostos, many of your complaints against food trucks are simply untrue. They do pay taxes, and licsensing fees, and waste removal fees. And they do have to abide by the same health and safety rules as the restaurants that opperate on you properties.
I'd urge you to ask the restaurants around Dewey Square, and the rest of the Greenway, if their lunch business has suffered due to the food trucks that park there everyday? Because as a patron I will tell you that they are all just as busy as they have always been.

Do you get upset when a new restaurant opens? Particularly one that opens in a store front that wasn't formally a restaurant? For instance, when Foundry opened? It used to be a retail store and now it's a restaurant which has created new competition for the longer established restaurants in that neighborhood. We live in a society where people want choices. From a consumer standpoint, what food trucks offer isn't in direct competition with what brick & mortar restaurants offer. Simply put. I won't choose a food truck over a brick & mortar restaurant.

Particularly when you consider food trucks are a form of fast food or on-the-go food. The city of Somerville (and the cities of Boston, Cambridge, & Brookline) are actually severely lacking in that market anyhow.

And one last point to consider. These are local entrepeneuers trying to make a living and providing jobs and revenue to the city. The same as you."

Suffice to say, I hope the Board of Aldermen reconsider the ordinance. I think evening and weekend food trucks in Davis and Union Squares would bring people to those area who may not normally come. And I think it also gives patrons who live in those neighborhoods additional, affordable, casual, non-sit-down eating options that just don't exist right now. I think only good things can come if the city would just take some hints from other successful food truck cities. Come on Somerville. You can do it.

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