Swapping Fryers For Fitting Rooms: Chicago Looks To Regulate Mobile Boutiques

By Lauren Zumbach
Chicago Tribune

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Mobile boutique owners in Chicago say part of a new proposal that would limit trucks to two hours in any public parking spot would effectively guarantee they remain a rare sight on the roads.

CHICAGO

After years of contentious efforts to regulate food trucks, Chicago is tackling a new kind of mobile business: trucks that swap fryers for fitting rooms and hawk merchandise, not meals.

The city in 2016 gave about a half-dozen mobile boutiques, selling apparel, shoes and artwork, permission to hit the streets for a two-year trial period.

City officials now want to establish rules governing them on a more permanent basis before their temporary business permits expire June 15.

The challenge? Catering to entrepreneurs seeking a novel way to launch or grow small businesses without making things tougher for their bricks-and-mortar counterparts or inviting unintended consequences if retail trucks start catching on.

The proposed ordinance, presented at a City Council committee meeting this week, would create a mobile merchant license with a $250 fee every two years, essentially preserving the rules that have been in place during the trial period.

Mobile boutique owners, however, say a portion of the proposal that would limit trucks to two hours in any public parking spot would effectively guarantee they remain a rare sight on the roads.

“It’s just not worth the time or money,” said Ann Sedgwick, who started a truck-based shoe boutique, Delicious Shoe, before opening her bricks-and-mortar store, Sfizi, in 2016 in the Ravenswood neighborhood.

Preparing the truck for customers after finding a spot takes about 45 minutes, nearly half the allotted time, she said. Outside of private parties and events, her truck now spends most days in storage.

Until two years ago, the city lacked a business license that fit the mobile model. Retail truck owners like Sedgwick said going mobile was a way to start a business without the risk of signing a lease on retail space or to supplement sales by getting wares in front of new customers.

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