Grand Haven Tribune: Do food trucks take business from downtown restaurants?
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Do food trucks take business from downtown restaurants?

Alexander Sinn • Dec 21, 2018 at 10:00 AM

Grand Haven City Council debated the price of an elephant ear Monday while considering whether food vendors during Coast Guard Festival are stealing business from permanent downtown restaurants.

The complaint is not new from permanent merchants, according to City Manager Pat McGinnis, but the Grand Haven Main Street Downtown Development Authority has recommended the City Council take steps to limit the number of temporary vendors.

For the 2018 festival, a total of 43 vendors set up shop in the city — including 19 on Harbor Drive, seven at the carnival on Washington Avenue and six at the Elks property.

The Main Street board recommends limiting the total number of vendors to 29, which would permit 12 on Harbor, seven at the carnival and four at the Elks. This would eliminate vendors at other locations.

City Councilman Michael Fritz was the first to defend food vendors, saying they are not offering the same menus as the local restaurants.

“Those vendors down there don’t sell the same food,” he said. “(Festival-goers) are not going to go down there and have a four-course meal and eat it all.”

Mayor Geri McCaleb said the city should study whether restaurants are losing business during the Coast Guard Festival and the summer months. She said vendor food isn’t typically cheap and there could be competition. She also raised a concern for the amount of garbage produced by vendors during the peak summer months.

Councilman Josh Brugger agreed that the issue should be studied, while Councilman Dennis Scott said the number of vendors has grown rapidly in recent years.

“I think it’s gotten out of hand,” Scott said. “We need to get a handle on this thing.”

Councilman Bob Monetza said the growth in recent years should be considered by council, but he called the idea of there being too many temporary vendors “a subjective call.”

“They want to be down there for something special and different,” he said of festival-goers. “That’s part of the experience of Coast Guard Festival.”

Limiting vendors could set the wrong precedent for the city’s premier festival, Fritz added.

“You start tweaking things and thinking too far ahead, and pretty soon the festival will not be what we have,” he said.

The City Council has the option to place limitations on the number of vendors, or restrict private properties from allowing vendors with a zoning ordinance amendment. Some longtime vendors could be grandfathered in.

Additionally, the council could slacken restrictions on permanent restaurants during the festival and set aside space for taxpaying establishments to set up outdoors. 

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