Food vendors challenge city talks
Published: Monday, March 4, 2013
Updated: Monday, March 4, 2013 07:03
For more than 16 years, Joe "The Hot Dog Man" Stone has sold hot dogs to the Morgantown community. Every weekend, patrons stop by his cart on the upper end of High Street, knowing "The Hot Dog Man" will always be there with cheap hotdogs.
Or will he?
At the Committee of the Whole city council meeting Feb. 26, Morgantown City Police Chief Ed Preston gave a presentation concerning late-night food vendors on High Street.
Preston suggested the city either ban these vendors or move them to a designated parking lot off of High Street – suggestions unwelcome to vendors and patrons alike.
Preston said he believes the street vendors contribute to pedestrian congestion on sidewalks, causing individuals to flow into the street – a potential hazard.
"We have a minimum of three food vendors during the most congested times in the downtown area on High Street," Preston said. "It is mostly pedestrian congestion until closing time, and then there is the issue of pedestrians mixing with vehicular traffic."
Between serving customers, Stone said Preston’s assertion was unfounded.
"Do you see anyone walking in the street to avoid this stand? I don’t think so," he said. "This stand has been here since ‘88, and it should not leave this spot."
Stone said moving all the vendors to a single parking lot wouldn’t alleviate problems – it would create them.
"If you have everybody in one parking lot, you’ll have a lot of drama," he said. "Everybody’s going to be fighting over the same dollar."
Stone also said he thinks it would make it more difficult for police to maintain the peace, as all the patrons looking for food would have to gather in one place.
"You cannot get a few hundred drunks in one area after the bars close," he said. "Each bar has different clientele, and when you have mass quantities of people in one location, what do you get? Fights."
Clara Swinburn, a Morgantown native and city employee, also disagreed with Preston’s argument.
"Putting everyone in one parking lot is asinine," she said. "I know (Preston’s) trying to contain the chaos, but that’s going to cause it."
Swinburn is a friend of Stone and regularly visits his stand on weekend nights. Her time spent downtown has led her to a conclusion.
"Technically, if you want to control the crowds, then shut the bars down," she said. "The bars are where the larger crowds are."
Farther down the street, a food vendor known as "Birdman" sells hotdogs near Cool Ridge.
His friend and assistant Troy McGee, a Morgantown resident, was up in arms about potentially having to move.
"Birdman’s part of the community," he said. "Everybody out here loves him. They love him, because he treats everybody with respect."
Birdman has operated his stand for about seven years. In that time, he has helped intoxicated people get home, broken up fights and sold thousands of hot dogs.
"As long as you’re giving, and you’re not just taking, you’re living the life," McGee said. "Why would anyone want to destroy that?"
McGee said Birdman has become part of the community and urged city council to reconsider Preston’s assessment.
"They need to look at what’s positive," he said. "I don’t see any negatives."
Both Stone and Birdman’s carts adhere to city code 905.02, which states five-foot wide clear passage for pedestrians on sidewalk must be maintained by street vendors.
At the Committee of the Whole meeting, council members agreed to convene on the issue at a later date.
Stone said he hopes the council will respond to the wishes of both the vendors and their patrons.
"I don’t know what the problem is," he said. Stone said he has never called the police to his stand. "If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it," he said.
Stone is a father of three, and last week he learned his wife has been diagnosed cancer.
"They could not have hit me with this at a worse time," he said. "This is my livelihood."
McGee said Birdman is an important part of the late-night scene, and moving him out of the neighborhood would be detrimental.
"It’s not just him out here trying to live," McGee said. "Everybody out here is trying to live, too."
City Council meets every first and third Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m. at 389 Spruce Street. The meetings are open to the public, and portions of the meeting are open to the public to discuss issues on the agenda.
Learn more at www.morgantownwv.gov.
Summer Ratcliff contributed to this report.