Home City Street vendors look to expand operations; city government has other plans

Street vendors look to expand operations; city government has other plans

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Athens’ street vendors are looking to relocate their Uptown operations because of changes in the local vending market, but the city government is poised to keep them parked on Union Street.

Damon Krane, the owner of Hot Potato Food Truck, said he is frustrated that Athens only permits mobile vendors to park on Union Street in front of Schoonover Center. The local business owner insisted that the city should permit street vendors to “move with the crowds” to take advantage of late-night bargoers’ demand for cheap food on Court Street. 

“Athens immobilizes mobile vendors by confining them to one portion of one city block,” Krane said.

In the early aughts, when Baker Center was located inside the now-Schoonover Center — directly across from the street vendors’ hub on Union Street — patrons could grab a bite from the Burrito Buggy during winter months and then conveniently head indoors to enjoy their meal in the old-Baker Center Front Room Coffeehouse. This reality, however, is long-gone, Krane said.

Since then, Baker Center relocated to Park Place near Scripps Hall, and Ohio University modified its academic calendar from quarters to semesters, which led to less business during May when classes had finished. Previously, May was Athens’ most popular vending month, he said.

These changes harmed the local street vending industry, creating a greater need for vendors to migrate to Court Street, said Krane — who is also the founder of the Athens Mobile Vending Association. The Athens Mobile Vending Association is a coalition of local vendors that lobby the city for greater vending opportunities, formed to help vendors adapt to the ever-changing vending business.

The city is worried that allowing vendors to operate around the bar scene may take away business from late-night, brick-and-mortar restaurants and create unfair market competition. That’s because brick-and-mortar establishments, unlike mobile vendors, pay high rent fees to operate Uptown, said Councilmember Sam Crowl.

Local businesses and landowners are also concerned that late-night vending patrons might soil the streets with trash, he said.

Crowl, a personal fan of Athens’ mobile vending scene, supports vendors in their battle for growth, but he is not sure that Mayor Steve Patterson’s administration or City Council are interested in expanding vending Uptown.

Crowl formed a mobile vending committee within City Council in 2018 alongside Krane and other business owners to facilitate increased communication between vendors and the council.

The committee helped pass legislation in December that allows vendors to purchase vending licenses on a monthly basis instead of yearly, which means vendors can choose to opt-out of paying for street space during slow business months.

Fewer parking spaces were reserved by vendors during the winter and summer months, allowing them to save money they would otherwise be required to spend, Krane said.

“That was just the most basic, superficial, intelligent first step. What we’re really pushing for is to actually have more mobile vending in Athens,” Krane said.

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