Traverse City, MI: Food Trucks Caught Up In Fee Hike

Roaming Harvest at Seventh and Elmwood, Traverse City.

By Candice Ludlow | Interlochen Public Radio

Roaming Harvest at Seventh and Elmwood, Traverse City.

Traverse City is a foodie town.  You can find locally-sourced meals and treats everywhere.  So some people were surprised when the city commission doubled the cost for street vendors to do business in town.

Now, the issue is back before the commission.

Roaming Harvest started rolling just as the commission decided to double fees for street vendors to do business.  The converted delivery truck operates at different locations around Traverse City, four days a week and at local events.

On Wednesdays, you can find Roaming Harvest across the street from the Munson Emergency Room on Elmwood and Seventh.

Simon Joseph and his wife, Rebecca, decided to try something new – and contribute to Traverse City’s reputation as a “foodie” town.  After two years of planning, they rolled onto the city streets.

The Cost To Do Business In Traverse City
“We’ve been open for a month and a half, and we paid the city of Traverse City 750 dollars to operate.”  Joseph continues, “This is on top of a lease we have on Cass Street—that is not in the city limit.”

If the Commission decision stands, Roaming Harvest’s fees will double, to 100 dollars a day, beginning September 15.  Joseph says they took the daily fee structure into account when they made their business plan.

“At 50 dollars a day, it was a stepping stone to have this conversation.  At 100 a day, I mean that’s almost forbidding me from coming downtown,” Joseph explains.  “I mean realistically.  We’re a food truck that can carry only so much food.  In order for us to do enough business to pay that, it seems a bit of a stretch.”

The commission passed the new fee structure on July 2, 5 to 1.  But the mayor, who voted in favor of the hike is now on the fence and thinking about rolling the fees back altogether.

City Commission Revisits Fees For Mobile Businesses
“And I will tell you that this is not yet a done deal with the fee adjustment,” Mayor Michael Estes says.  “There’s a lot of commissioners who think that maybe we shouldn’t raise the fees at all.”

Estes says part of the rationale for upping the ante is that the fee to do business on the streets of Traverse City hasn’t increased in over 30 years, and likened it to taxes that the downtown merchants pay.  And of course, taxes have gone up, and so have rents.

But it seems as if the Commission didn’t realize their action could put a food truck out of business.  And it’s unclear if downtown restaurants feel food trucks are in direct competition with them.  IPR contacted several restaurants on Front Street, and they didn’t appear to know about the new fee structure for mobile food businesses and none would comment.

Commissioner Carruthers Lone Dissenting Voice
Commissioner Jim Carruthers cast the lone “no” vote in June.  He says he’s against raising the fees “mainly because we pride ourselves in Traverse City to have this entrepreneurial spirit.”

And Carruthers doesn’t believe the city should make it difficult for people to make a living.