A 5-2 vote
By Alissa Johnson
The Crested Butte Town Council voted 5 to 2 this week to amend town vending codes to allow merchandise trucks in town. Despite some disagreement, the amendment will permit those trucks to utilize public land such as the Four-way Stop and Big Mine Park.
At a public hearing on Monday, June 18, mayor Jim Schmitt said he had some concerns about allowing merchandise trucks on public property, and councilmember Kent Cowherd agreed.
“I’m reluctant to open public parking space to a business in a vehicle. It just doesn’t seem consistent that we require parking spaces from businesses on Elk Avenue, but in this case a business would be allowed to use one,” Cowherd said.
He also pointed out that a vending truck might be bigger than a standard parking space, not to mention awnings that might stick out beyond the vehicle.
Councilmember Chris Haver said he liked the idea of a merchandise truck, but preferred to see vendors use private land. He worried that customers might spend longer at a merchandise truck than a food truck, and that using public property created an unfair advantage.
“It’s kind of subsidized by town that way,” Haver said. “I’m great with it on private property. It will be a neat addition, and my understanding is that this will work on private property.”
Councilmember Paul Merck, however, thought a merchandise truck at the Four-way Stop might encourage more foot traffic that would also walk up Elk Avenue. And he didn’t see a huge issue for brick and mortar vendors.
“As Laura [Mitchell] mentioned at our last meeting, we have food vendors [in carts and trucks] too and we’ve allowed it. I don’t see a lot of restaurants having a major problem with it,” Merck said.
“I would echo the idea that hopefully it would get people to park at the Four-way and walk,” councilmember Jackson Petito added. “But if we can’t come to agreement, I would urge us to vote on the entire thing with that section taken out… My sense is that we can all agree on private property.”
Laci Wright, who brought the idea of merchandise trucks to the council, responded to the council’s concerns. She hopes to sell t-shirts from a truck in town and reiterated that as a retailer, she would be buying a vending license and a business license, as well as paying sales tax. Yet the small retail space would make it easier to get started.
“I think it’s a great entry-level option for a business,” she said, suggesting that customers would not spend any more time at the merchandise truck than a typical food truck. She did not see any issues with size, either, and shared the names of more than a dozen people and couples who’d signed a petition in favor of allowing merchandise trucks on public properties. A number of people in the audience also raised their hands in support.
Carrie Jo Chernoff-Hicks, town resident and owner of Synergy Athlete on Elk Avenue, also spoke in favor of allowing merchandise trucks on public property.
“I am one of those brick and mortar businesses that has contributed to the parking in town, and I still support this idea,” Chernoff-Hicks said. She emphasized that she started small and was able to do so by teaching classes on town properties.
“I started out of Town Hall running a ski conditioning program with about 60 people. I was working for Joyce at the gym at the time. In speaking with her about competing with the gym, it wasn’t competition. I was actually promoting fitness and worked hard to promote her gym.”
She pointed out that Wright would be in a prime location to direct customers to other stores depending on what they were looking for. “As far as a competitive edge, we promote each other and support each other,” she said of businesses in Crested Butte.
Councilmembers did confirm with public works director Rodney Due that a merchandise cart would not take up a parking space at the Four-way Stop but would take up a space when parked near Big Mine Park.
In the end, Council voted 5-2 to pass the amended ordinance, including the language to allow merchandise trucks on public property. Cowherd and Haver both voted against the amendment, with Haver casting the final vote.
“Nay, but congratulations,” he said to Wright.