TRAVERSE CITY — Sidewalk cafe seating is popular among downtown restaurateurs and their fair weather customers, but extra tables can mean more clutter and trash in a town rife with both during peak tourist season.
Some city officials who worry about an increase in trash — and costs associated with collecting and disposing of it — want downtown restaurant operators who use sidewalk cafes to be responsible for the trash they generate. Others said that additional burden could hurt businesses’ bottom lines.
Restaurant owners said they want a clean downtown, but are cautious about adding expense.
“I want to keep our front area looking great,” said Patty Hickman, co-owner of The Dish Cafe on Union Street, whose restaurant sports a half-dozen outdoor tables in pleasant-weather months. “(But) we pay taxes to have trash removed. If I chip in to help it’s fine, but if I’ve got to pay for it ... .”
Hickman said her employees collect the lion’s share of food waste and paper from their outdoor tables. There’s plenty of non-restaurant trash that ends up in city containers, she said.
City commissioners’ responses to new trash collection suggestions varied.
“I think this is an attempt to correct a problem at the wrong spot,” said Commissioner Jody Bergman. “It’s not the sidewalk cafes, it’s the takeout vendors.”
Commissioner Jeanine Easterday said downtown restaurant operators already police their outside tables and any effort to require trash cans that could attract garbage from elsewhere would add to the cost of doing businesses.
“Waste generated on the street should be collected by the city,” Easterday said.
Mayor Michael Estes said city does not provide waste collection for every business in the city, and downtown is no different. Nor does every downtown business generate waste that ends up in city trash cans, he said.