Elkton punts peddler debate
Town sends issue back to chamber for recommendation
ELKTON — After weighing several options on peddler permits, the board of town commissioners punted the matter back to the the Elkton Chamber & Alliance in order to get an official recommendation based on comments from downtown businesses before changing the rules for standalone food vendors.
Mayor Rob Alt, who previously said that he had no problem with the current peddler regulations, suggested to wait until the Elkton Chamber & Alliance weighs in after Commissioner Jean Broomell pointed out that whatever decision is made would have ramifications on the nonprofit’s efforts to reshape downtown Elkton.
“I think it is a legitimate concern … The Alliance is really working very hard to create an atmosphere, and I’d like to support them,” Broomell said during Wednesday’s workshop meeting. “If the Alliance is not interested in having
10 vendors in the immediate downtown area, then I would support that.”
In September, Commissioner Mary Jo Jablonski, who also serves as the executive director of the Elkton Chamber & Alliance, raised discussion on peddler permits after some restaurateurs shared concerns during the Alliance’s quarterly merchant meeting. One month earlier, a hot dog vendor set up shop in front of the county courthouse, one of the main drivers of traffic to Elkton.
As it stands, a peddler can set up shop anywhere except in a metered parking space, with a permit signed off by Town Administrator Lewis George. Permits cost $25 for six months while a year costs $50. If a vendor is looking to work on private property, then they would need to provide the town with a letter of support of the property owner in their application. Both Waffle’n Joe and Crave Eatery food trucks received permits under this provision as they stop outside Union Hospital and Williams Chevrolet, respectively.
In Alt’s eyes, the only locations on Main Street with enough room to regularly host a food vendor without impeding traffic were Elkton Florist and Premier Auto & Tire. The two courthouses, which are owned by the state, are the only other spots that would not impede traffic. But other suggestions floated during previous discussions were capping the number of peddler permits or limiting what streets vendors could be on.
For special events held on Main Street, like last week’s Elkton Mini Grand Prix, food trucks are welcome to park downtown with the blessing of the Elkton Chamber & Alliance. The town commissioners indicated Wednesday that they had no problem with allowing food vendors on Main Street during those event.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Earl Piner reported Wednesday that business owners stressed to him that they were paying property tax to stay in Elkton — a cost that peddlers don’t have to bear.
Commissioner Charles Givens shared that perspective, and because of that, he would say “no vendors in the business district.” He also pointed out that during his work in Havre de Grace, he doesn’t see the same problem because the town had discouraged that from the beginning.
“They have businesses there, they want the businesses to grow and they don’t want any outside people coming in to deter from them,” he said.
Jablonski maintained that, in her view, this was about how the commissioners wanted to shape their downtown district, not about where food vendors can work in town limits.
“When it comes to Union Hospital, Williams [Chevrolet], I’m not talking about that. That has nothing to do with these merchants downtown or in the business district. That’s their property and their choice,” she said. “You want these downtown businesses to prosper. You want them to stay. We don’t want them to be discouraged because somebody could get a hot dog for a dollar. So maybe the thing to do is look at this a little better.”
The Elkton Chamber & Alliance will discuss the matter at its November board meeting, but Vice President Roger Owens indicated that he will go out and survey Main Street businesses before the meeting.
“(Board President) Larry Crouse and I are not beyond walking tours and going around and asking businesses, ‘Hey what do you think about this,’ and listening to them,” Owens said Thursday. “I can understand the frustration because if you’re paying $4,000 in property taxes, and some guy can pay $50 and just set up shop outside … having trucks downtown don’t really enhance that image. But on the other hand, they’re perfect for special events. The restaurants were overwhelmed last weekend [with Elkton Mini Grand Prix], and they were grateful for the vendors.”
The Elkton Chamber & Alliance board will meet to discuss peddler permits, among other business, on Nov. 6.