GALLIPOLIS — Gallipolis City Commission passed the first reading of an ordinance Tuesday that would outline the regulations and processes by which a mobile food vendor could set up within municipal limits.
Holly Campbell, proprietor of the traveling food trailer Hot Rod Cafe, was a resident of the Patriot area who originally approached the commission last July. She wanted to place her concessions trailer along the road in Gallipolis City Park during lunch. Controversy followed as Gallipolis has not officially legalized regulation of mobile concessions as means of permanent business in the area. Some individuals were vocal in their criticism of the business model, saying mobile concessions do not pay the same “dues” as typical restaurants in the form of taxes and business investment.
Campbell claimed her business was as permanent as any and wanted to remain a fixture around town. She added that because her business model is different does not make it any less valid and that she should not be penalized for it. After months had passed, City Code Enforcement Officer Brett Bostic and City Solicitor Adam Salisbury traveled to places like Athens and Columbus — cities that are well known for their mobile concessions — to get a better idea of how mobile concessions should be regulated.
“We’re going to try mobile food vending,” Salisbury said. “You can apply to receive a license for your mobile food vending operation. We are going to have a lottery type draw system where you apply. Your rig is checked out to make sure everything is working and make sure that you have all the required inspections from the Ohio Department of Health. If your application is chosen, you can apply for one of three spots at City Park (that can operate) Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.”
The spots will be located on the river side of the park running parallel to the sidewalk with their commercial window facing the sidewalk by which they parked. One spot will also be open near the city pool and another will be open near the city ball fields. Lottery winners will pay an up-front licensing fee of $1,500 for the year’s worth of time they would be allowed to sit in the designated vending zone. The ball field and pool spot licenses will be $750. Special occasions like the annual River Recreation Festival would govern food vendors by different regulations. Individuals wishing to operate on private property could also do so for a much cheaper licensing fee.
Campbell expressed dislike for the lottery model as she felt she had contributed to the research of the food vending business for the city to draft ordinances. She felt it would be unfair if she did not receive a spot through the lottery program due to the fact she approached the commission about setting up shop in the park last year. She felt a first-come first-serve licensing arrangement was the best way to handle the situation.
Campbell said she does not have $1,500 for a licensing fee because she had been told by city officials she could pay a cost back to the city in regular intervals prior to the legislation being drafted. She feels the city has not worked as fast as it could when deciding what to do with the mobile concessions controversy. Campbell said she has already invested $20,000 in her trailer.
City officials said they feel the lottery system is the most fair means of allowing mobile concessions into the city. They also said that charging $1,500 was necessary due to the transient nature of mobile concessions. According to Bostic, roughly 25 mobile concessions were registered with the Gallia County Health Department.
“The point I was trying to make, we’ve what, dwelled on this for a year?” City Manager Gene Greene said. “We weren’t moving on it. We can kick this thing around for the rest of your life and still not get anywhere. Sometimes you’ve got to step in and get it done. So, I was just trying to make it good for everybody. I’m not saying that I don’t want or do want you in. I want to also protect the brick-and-mortar people and I’ve gone out and talked with some of them. They don’t have a problem with food trucks as long as everyone is on the same playing field. These people over here pay taxes. They pay employees. We collect income tax off of them. They’re with us year round and that’s great.
“Brett and I talked about the fee and the reason the fee was raised. I’ll be very honest with you, it was always before if you came in you could get a temporary work permit for $150 a week,” Greene continued. “You’re going to get your permit, and nothing derogatory about your (business), I’m saying, food vendors in general. They’re going to come in pay their permit, work their (business) and I’m never going to see them again. They’re going to come in and get whatever sales they can get. I don’t know if you’re over there seven days or two hours a day. These other people I do know.”
City commissioners said they were open to criticisms and that the ordinance may potentially be amended in the future as new situations appear with mobile concessions. They said the ordinance might not be perfect but it was a start and it was likely what they would continue to work with for the foreseeable future.
Dean Wright can be reached at (740) 446-2342, Ext. 2103.