Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 12, 2013

Forum: Food trucks — 'To be or not to be'

By Rick Korndorfer
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — Traverse City Commissioner Jim Carruthers and his food truckers are actively promoting these entities into our downtown district, streets and parks. Food trucks are mobile vehicles serving up whatever concoction the owner chooses. Most of us are familiar with them at festivals serving up french fries, elephant ears, etc.

I am currently a member of the Downtown Development Authority, a property owner and a former proprietor of a small business downtown. I’m opposed to the degradation of our emerging food culture by allowing these vehicles for more reasons than mentionable.

First and foremost is that Carruthers and company, while decrying free enterprise and “opportunities for all,” will hurt existing businesses. The reality is the eateries downtown (currently 54 within our DDA) exist and operate on private property. Food trucks can, too, but these truckers insist they be allowed on public property, streets, and parkland. This will create an unlevel playing field.

Mobile vendors will have an advantage at the expense of private enterprise. Food trucks will motor in during the summer season, take a percentage of business, and leave when the weather sours. Truckers have an unfair advantage in that they don’t pay property taxes, city utilities, yearly employees or provide restrooms. All of which the bricks and mortar pay.

I know how difficult it is to survive as a small business downtown. Many just “hang on” until summer. Why would government choose to negatively impact the very businesses they are charged to support? Why would the DDA recommend these vehicles downtown to compete on an unequal playing field? Why would the DDA undermine the very businesses that tax themselves additional dollars to fund the DDA? What is government’s role in the marketplace? What slippery slope is this? Isn’t governments charge “to do no harm” being compromised? Ask J & S Hamburg, Greenhouse Café, House of Doggs, etc. about the playing field.

Why is government allowing private enterprise to compete on public property on West Bay year round? The citizens of Traverse City voted to tax ourselves to purchase the bay front, remove the power plant and substation for all. We created the Open Space. What gives government the right to change that and go into the leasing business?

I think the answer is simple. We have elected and appointed individuals to public bodies who don’t have the ability to think through issues in a rational, fair-minded manner. There are consequences to their actions they fail to acknowledge. They make these decisions in a vacuum. They think only of themselves.

How wonderful they’ll feel to walk up to a truck and purchase a meal in July. I’m certain they’ll feel pleasant and good, but will the year-round operator paying the taxes that support your city government feel the same?

What’s next, mobile vendors retailing sunglasses, sweatshirts or sandals? How about a mobile boutique, I spoke with a person who owns one. This is indeed a slippery slope. Stay tuned.

About the author: Rick Korndorfer is a member of the Downtown Development Authority, a property owner and the former proprietor of a small downtown business.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by emailing letters@record-eagle.com. Please include biographical information and a photo.