About this time last year the hottest wintertime issue was whether Traverse City should loosen its rules concerning food trucks.
Restaurant owners and downtown supporters said allowing food trucks to do business on city streets and parking lots was unfair to business owners who pay property taxes and pay for their buildings and to provide restrooms for patrons.
Food truck supporters argued the trucks would enhance the city’s growing reputation as a food destination and that city fees would help level the playing field.
In May the City Commission voted 5-to-2 to allow up to two mobile food vendors to operate year-round in four city parking lots and on State Street between Union and Pine streets.
The ordinance also allowed up to two trucks on some side streets and some of the city’s larger parks. Vendors were to pay $1,225 annually to park on city and private property, $725 for city property only, and $500 for private property only.
With the inaugural season now behind us, there doesn’t appear to have been a truck-ageddon. None of the worst appears to have come to pass. Given the brisk business many trucks experienced, however, it would be surprising if some eateries didn’t feel the heat.
A success story that pointed up the synergy some had hoped for was Little Fleet, a bar at the site of the former Jack’s Market east of downtown. The business welcomed food trucks to its lot, and as many as seven trucks used the site at any one time.
DDA director Rob Bacigalupi said the trucks there helped area businesses.
“Certainly, the food trucks at the Little Fleet have been great in generating traffic down on that end of town,” Bacigalupi said. “We’ve seen some of the businesses down there have extended their hours and they’re taking advantage of the traffic down there.”
The commission is planning to consider extending food truck hours from the current 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. to 3 a.m. to allow the trucks time to set up for breakfast and serve early morning revelers who leave bars when they close at 2 a.m.
That seems a small change that could serve a built-in audience — and maybe get some blood-alcohol levels down, which is always a good thing.
The larger issue — whether food trucks are hurting existing brick-and-mortar restaurants — will get a better test this coming summer. So far, the trucks appear to have offered an alternative without the worst downside some feared. Time will tell.