Local restaurant owners expressed serious concern over the increased number and activity of late night street vendors at a Vending Oversight Committee meeting Wednesday night.
Representatives from Silver Mine Subs and Pita Pit explained to committee members that the activity of certain street vendors is hurting their business and is unfair to the restaurants.
Rich Scheflow, owner of Silver Mine Subs, said there has been an influx of street vendors in the past year. He said vendors and their customers use his bathrooms and trashcans, as well as cause safety concerns.
“We’re suffering because of it,” Scheflow said. “There’s no regulation at all, and I just think something needs to be done. It’s unregulated, and I think it’s insane with all the regulations [restaurants] have.”
The history of cart vendors in Madison has been long and difficult, according to Warren Hansen, executive secretary and street vending coordinator. Carts historically used to set up on Langdon Street, which led to an increase in litter and noise complaints.
Since then, the VOC has come up with the idea of “late night vending,” where vendors could sell in four locations: Broom Street, Johnson Street, North Francis Street and the 700 block of State Street. However, the recent influx of vendors has upset this distinction, Warren said.
“Now that balance has gone out of whack,” Warren said. “We have to fix late night vending again so that it’s going to work for everyone.”
Steven Lawrence of the food cart Fried and Fabulous said he built his business with the concept of downtown, late night food in mind. He said he did not want to have his business in Library Mall late at night, as people often avoid that area.
He said he chose the North Broom Street area because of the foot traffic and city regulations.
“Really as far as the options that are available for late night vending, Broom Street is the only one,” Lawrence said.
In addition to safety concerns, Scheflow said he pays thousands of dollars for his location, and does not believe it is fair that food carts pay less and are able to compete with his business so easily.
Mary Carbine of the Madison Business Improvement District said she agreed.
“We’re talking people’s life savings, tens of thousands of dollars in a lease,” Carbine said. “Suddenly there’s an unexpected number of competitive businesses that pops up, which is unpredictable, and it pops up during peak hours. That can have some really negative impacts.”
Carbine also said the traffic in late night food service has increased as a result of residential patterns in the downtown area. Because of an influx of high-rise locations and apartments in recent years, different areas are busier now than in the past.
Carbine suggested that the use of Library Mall could be possible, if vendors try to market the area.
“I think status quo is different than when Langdon was the destination,” Carbine said. “I really hope that Library Mall can be thought of again. You have to work to make it a destination.”
After heavy discussion, the committee decided to discuss the subject further at their next meeting. Madison ordinance prohibits saving parking spots for street vendors, an issue that the commission suggested having a local attorney advise them on.
Meanwhile, both vendors and local restaurants will simply have to wait.
“I realize its not going to go away,” Scheflow said. “We can limit things. We can’t reserve spots, so I don’t really know where we’re going.”