For now, they're still "peddlers." As of September the name, and the cost of doing business, will change. That's when Traverse City's street vendors will become "transient merchants" (if the commission OKs the name change) and the daily fee they pay to the city will double to $100 a day between May 16 and Sept. 14. Off-season rates will increase to $100 per week, up from $50 per week.
The Downtown Development Authority recommended changing the peddler rules in part because of a steady increase in the number of temporary downtown operations ranging from food carts to sunglass stands and palm reading booths.
Peddler fees haven't increased for several years and were a point of contention within the DDA; some members thought of peddlers as unfair competition because the temporary vendors don't pay rent, property taxes or other infrastructure costs that building-based businesses do.
Even at $50 a day, it wasn't as if peddlers were operating for free. There are few, if any, downtown merchants who pay $18,000 or thereabouts per year in property taxes, etc., the equivalent of a $50-a-day fee. But transient merchants don't operate every day and don't pay nearly that much.
So merchants have a point. They pay taxes or rent while peddlers come and go; when times are slow, peddlers can head to greener pastures.
The jump to $100 a day, however, is a lot to swallow. It would have been fairer to transients to have raised the fee bit by bit, $10 every other year for instance, until it got to a number the city considered a fair amount. Everyone knew there was disparity that eventually needed to be addressed, so putting it off until now has created an unnecessary hardship. Even hiking the fee $25 this year and another $25 in 2014 or 2015 would have been fairer.
The next step will be harder still. The DDA is already thinking about how the city should deal with other transient operations such as food trucks, which are growing in popularity around Michigan and the U.S. That should be something city planners are thinking about as well.
A DDA study committee is looking at rules for accommodating other transient operations such as food trucks. DDA executive director Bryan Crough said new rules for Clinch Park could help meet demand, but other rules will be needed.
There are nearly 50 restaurants in just the downtown, and the city has a growing reputation as being a foodie haven. Crafting rules to allow the vitality of food trucks while protecting established businesses will take imagination and a light touch.