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Find Role For Food Carts

EDITORIAL The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) This op-ed out of The Columbian in Vancouver, takes a look at how city officials can weigh the needs of small, independent businesses while respecting the rights of developers who have signed agreements with the city.

The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash.

A slight kerfuffle regarding independent businesses at The Waterfront Vancouver brings up some interesting questions. In the end, the site's developers have a right to enforce their agreement with the city and determine which businesses can operate on the site.

Chelsea and Cory Chunn, who own and operate Chunney Pop, a mobile food cart specializing in handcrafted ice pops, have complained that their business has not been welcome at the waterfront.

According to an article in The Columbian, the Chunns regularly set up their cart at the Vancouver Farmers Market and started heading to the waterfront when the market closed for the season, but soon learned they are not allowed to be there. At issue is a 2009 agreement that prevents outside businesses from operating in the area.

"I think it was something they didn't really think about," Chelsea Chunn said of the prohibition. She also told a city council meeting, "We're concerned with the economic future for small businesses, in particular, mobile food vending units within current city developments and city developments on the horizon."

Those concerns are reasonable; city officials must be conscientious about the needs of small, independent businesses and take reasonable steps to help those businesses thrive.

But consideration for developers who signed an agreement with the city also is reasonable and, in fact, essential.

The Waterfront Vancouver is a billion-dollar investment that was vetted and approved by city leaders, and the first phase was recently opened to the public. If developers wish to help businesses that lease space and protect them from outside competition, and if they wish to project a certain image for the site, they should have a right to do so.

If, for example, Washington's tourism industry sets up shop in retail space at the waterfront to sell themed T-shirts and trinkets, it would be unfair to allow a T-shirt vendor to stand outside and sell their wares without paying for rent on a space.

Meanwhile, the city of Vancouver should encourage and facilitate the burgeoning food cart industry. Food cart culture has helped transform Portland into a hip, thriving city, with carts often congregated into pods that allow customers to choose between gyros or street tacos or grilled cheese sandwiches within the space of a few feet.

As explains: "Downtown food carts were born of the Great Recession. Multiplying across the city's surface parking lots, they have collectively grown into one of Portland's great grassroots success stories. They have fostered economic opportunities, culinary experimentation, cultural diversity, tourism, and tasty, inexpensive food."

Downtown Vancouver has a handful of food carts; Hazel Dell Commons has a pod inhabited by four businesses; and Visit Vancouver USA lists 18 food carts in the county. Clark County has done an exceptional job of piggy-backing on Portland's brewpub industry, with numerous thriving eateries that brew beer on site.

Likewise, entrepreneurs should be encouraged to take the lessons from Portland's food carts and see what works on this side of the river.

That does not mean food cart operators should be allowed to set up shop wherever they wish, but that they should be part of the conversation that develops the Vancouver of the future. As Chunn said, "I hope that more folks will step forward in being part of creating positive solutions."

Such input could assist in the creation of a Vancouver that prospers into the future.

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