Posted: April 4, 2013 at 3:53 pm
By Stephanie Aikin, Karissa Blackburn and Joshua Young
When BurkeManning and his family opened The Pita Pit on High Street in 2006, he says there was just one street vendor, a guy who sold hot dogs in the same spot for 15 years. Then two years ago, another vendor started selling hot dogs right outside of the Pita Pit’s front door. Other mobile vendors soon followed.
Manning asked the vendor who was selling hot dogs outside his restaurant to move but he wouldn’t. Police said they couldn’t do anything about it, so Manning took his complaints to the city attorney. But nothing happened, until a WVU freshman was hit by a beer bottle and severely injured while waiting to buy a hot dog on High Street early one morning in January.
After that, Morgantown city councilors asked Police Chief Ed Preston to look into the issue of whether there were too many street vendors operating late at night downtown. The city is now debating whether to ban or limit the number of these mobile vendors from High Street or contain them in a specific location, such as the Farmer’s Market on Spruce Street.
At a public meeting in February, City Council requested a briefing on how many food vendors currently operate in Morgantown and where from Police Chief Ed Preston. Then, at the March 5th council meeting, city officials, existing businesses and streets vendors discussed a proposed ban on the street vendors. Morgantown’s Deputy mayor Wesley Nugent was one of those who spoke up in favor of the food trucks.
“They are just as vital to the downtown atmosphere and economy as the brick and mortar businesses,” Nugent says. “In fact, I think those [vendors] are what make Morgantown so appealing. Tourists and visitors love the food vendors.”
Some of the street vendors say they keep an eye on the students partying in the downtown clubs and bars late at night.
“I’m not just out here selling food,” says Joe Byrd, a.k. a. “Byrdman,” a hot dog vendor on High Street. “I love people and having relationships with them. I look out for these students.”
However, Manning says that the street vendors cause problems with congestion and contribute to unruly behavior from the late night crowd who flock to their trucks. But he says he understands that they have a right to do business in the city.
Manning says the problem could be solved by a simple, three-step solution.
He proposes a cap on the number of street vendors allowed downtown. He also suggests raising the cost of the permit street vendors must obtain before they can sell their goods. Right now, the permit for a year is only $25 and most of the vendors are in business from 11 p.m to 4 a.m. He notes that most permanent businesses on High Street pay about $30,000 in rent every year.
“Right now, there’s no limit on [the number of street vendors],” Manning says. “We’re not arguing that they shouldn’t be here, because they do have a right to be here, but the city needs to do a little more regulation of [them].”
City officials are also considering trying to wrest the rights to High Street from the state so they have more control over traffic in general. There is even talk of possibly shutting down some portions of High Street on weekends for pedestrian-only traffic.
But they acknowledge that no decision on the street vendors or the roads will be made until after the city’s municipal elections on April 30.
“[Morgantown’s] administration should be bringing it back to council in two to three months,” Nugent says. The various “options for this issue will be coming up on the agenda again.”