By the end of this month, the city of Ann Arbor will begin enforcing an ordinance that prohibits parking vehicles on public sidewalks. Though the policy may seem mundane, it could spell doom for longtime campus staples like hot dog vendors and other sidewalk snack shacks.
The ordinance has been on the books since 1947, but it hasn’t been consistently enforced.
Ann Arbor City Council member Stephen Kunselman (D-Ward 3), who calls himself “the one who dug it up and brought it to light,” said he decided the law needed to be enforced because of repeated complaints he’s heard about the vendors. He cited an example of a taco stand on the corner of East William and State Streets last year that ran a generator so loudly that blind students couldn’t hear the beep that signals when it’s safe to cross the street.
“I can recall a few people using the city right-of-way as long-term storage,” Kunselman said, referring to vendors not stowing their carts away at night. “I’ve got a problem with that.”
The ordinance states that motor vehicles can only park in designated areas, but Kunselman said that state law considers a vehicle anything that has an axle and wheels.
As it stands, campus vendors would have to close their umbrellas and drag their carts home by March 31, the last day vendors will be permitted to sell on the sidewalks.
Sylvia Nolasco, who runs Pilar’s Tamales on the corner of South University and East University Avenues with her husband, said the ordinance took her by surprise.
“I do this for a living, and to be given two months notice on what I’m going to do is not fair,” said Nolasco, who along with her family spent $10,000 to build the stand she sells from.
Nolasco said city officials have not taken her opposition to the plan seriously.
“I just want somebody to e-mail me back or call me and say, ‘go to hell,’ ” said Nolasco, a mother of three young children. “I don’t want to be ignored. I have a voice – you’re there to help me, you are my representative, you are my mayor to help me, or to say look: this is how it is. Don’t keep passing the buck.”
Kunselman said he isn’t opposed to street vendors, but only wants to reverse the ordinance if vendors ensure their carts don’t obstruct sidewalks and avoid the “tacky” aesthetic of staying parked for weeks.
“Nothing’s happening until the people who have been here 24/7 are gone,” he said. “Then we can start dialogue.”
LeRoy Whipple has owned Dog Days, the stand outside the C.C. Little Building that offers chili dogs, soup and free advice, for four years. Whipple, who juggled selling hot dogs during his phone interview, voiced his frustration.
“We’re not just vendors out here making a dollar and not doing anything,” he said. “I’ve got lots of people I’ve met through the years. I think it’s good for the community itself and good for the students.”
Jim Kosteva, the University’s director of community relations, said the University has informed city officials when vendors obstruct pedestrians or traffic but doesn’t mind the vendors selling on sidewalks.
“They wouldn’t be there if people from the University weren’t enjoying a hot dog,” he said.