Home > Cultural Movement, Economics, Public Anecdotes > Traverse City’s un-cool approach to peddlers

Traverse City’s un-cool approach to peddlers

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Glad the Record Eagle followed-up with someone hardest hit by Traverse City’s latest reactive measure —the increase of the peddler’s fee (a.k.a. transient merchant). The doubling of the daily fee (summertime) from $50 to $100 is a blow to entrepreneurs as well as to citizens interested in a vibrant community with a diverse range of choices.

Instead of taking a holistic approach to the topic, City Commissioners, under advice by the downtown Development Authority, aimed to price potential street vendors out of the market in the name of “paying their fair share.”

In doing so, they ignored a few things in their arguments:

  1. If you own, or rent, commercial property downtown you may get a permit free of charge.
  2. Peddlers also have to pay rent to the land owner–thus taxes. (If you own land, you can basically set up a competing vending cart without a daily fee)
  3. TC doesn’t allow vending on public property (exemptions for events). I fail to understand what the $100/day covers. It certainly isn’t an embracing of a valuable contribution to the community, to place-making, and to the economy.

They claim it was to restrict sunglass vendors and palm readers, not restrict food carts. That doesn’t make it better. There are other-ways to regulate what occurs then simply pricing everyone out of business (square footage allowances, locations…). It is a clumsy approach that I think will drive opportunities, and people, away from Traverse City. Not by itself, but in combination with other un-cool ideas the City has instituted.

The DDA says they are continuing to look at how to allow food carts. It is my sense they are still approaching it from the negative. Instead, it’d be wise for them to shift their perspective and see how street vending can be embraced and accommodated, not simply moved out of the way.

In the end, the competition argument is bunk–street vendors create business and vibrancy in a place by filling niches that restaurants and other businesses aren’t as well positioned to serve. Sometimes, we want to sit down at a private table for a meal. Others times, we want to stand with The People in the open air and spill ketchup on our shirts. Often, we want to do both.


If you have a street vending story, please share it with us here.

Also, consider sending your comments to the DDA Board.


My story: I learned to speak Chinese with a lot of help from street vendors. Sure, teachers helped, but there was no better classroom than walking the streets of Chengdu seeking out 1 on 1 instruction over steamed dumplings, pulled noodles, or a steaming cup of soy milk sipped from a plastic bag. I’d buy something to eat to pay for the instruction. There’s a public interaction that happens with street vending that is hard to achieve in a typical restaurant–and something we should embrace.


  1. Nathan Elkins
    July 16, 2012 at 9:20 am

    As a DDA Board Member I unfortunately was not able to attend the meeting where this item was placed on the agenda to show my non-support. Extremely disappointed with this action.

  2. Nancy Griesinger
    July 16, 2012 at 9:45 am

    I think street vending of produce such as flowers(fresh) and food (ready to eat on the spot) is a beautiful thing for any city, but vendors who sell merchandise, whether underwear or sunglasses, and services such as palm reading and foot massage, do nothing to improve a city’s image. That sort of tent or booth is simply tacky, and carnival like. We don’t need Tacky, and I, for one, do not ever want to see Tacky in our town. Allowing Veterans freedom to sell convenient(hand held) foods and/or flowers for free is a very nice thing to do, but even those vendors should be held to rules and not allowed to put up any old kind of cart. The street vendors are often the first “local” a visitor sees. It is vitally important to make some hard and fast rules for them. The physical look of one’s city does matter, and Tacky is not it.

  3. M'Lynn
    July 16, 2012 at 9:54 am

    In my travels I have noticed that all of the “cool cities” … the most livable and enjoyable cities, the dynamic cities; all have music downtown and/or cart parks for food vendors. Music and food carts ought to be highly valued in Traverse City as well. The fees for vending are currently insanely high, considering that the profit margin for food cart sales is typically much smaller than a sit-down restaurant. The DDA argues that food cart food sales will take diners away from downtown restaurants (an unsubstantiated fear). Food carts typically provide a healthy alternative to cheap fast food (a win-win opportunity in an unfit society battling obesity and diabetes). Please support affordable opportunities for food cart vendors in Traverse City. You’ll be glad that you did.

  4. Megan Kelto
    July 16, 2012 at 10:08 am

    $100 a day is ABSURD and way out of line with local rents and taxes on a price-per-square-foot basis.

  5. Greg
    July 16, 2012 at 10:20 am

    While reading the article in the paper, it mentions the pita stand was located by Munson. Why does the DDA have any say about that area of town? Sounds like another long list of reasons to get rid of the DDA once and for all.

  6. July 16, 2012 at 10:35 am

    For comparison, Grand Rapids is around $250/year and restricted to certain locations. Other cities that encourage and provide for peddlers have comparable costs. Certainly, none of them approach $100/day, which undoubtedly kills any idea of something like small flower vendor setting up shop.

    Greg, the City Commission requested opinion from the DDA Board for policy to impact all commercial zones. They did so narrowly looking at fees and not with intention of looking at what the market may support or desire.

    In my opinion, the City gets into a difficult spot if it extends too far in determining what is too “tacky” for Traverse City…who is the arbiter of that? There are models out there that may be acceptable, but we don’t have them in place in TC. If the scene took off, a review scheme could be a real value in ensuring diversity of goods and services in locations that could use a boost.

    Tangential note, courts have ruled that newsstands are exempt from peddler fees under the first amendement.

  7. TedPagleton
    July 16, 2012 at 11:36 pm

    Stop with the “models” and use common sense!… I saw many peddle and push carts along the bay during Cherry Festival. They didn’t pay any fee for anything! This is part of the flavor of the summer season. you going to charge the kid with the wagon and cute dog that was selling pop and lemon-aide on Union Street (which everyone loved both the refreshment and dog!)! Leave these people alone.
    The DDA has run-amuck over the city commission for years by giving up power to Brian Crough as the defacto behind the scenes mayor/city manager. And all of you know that..

  8. July 17, 2012 at 7:15 am

    Here are some words I read yesterday in a great book on cities: Cities in Civilization by Sir peter Hall: “from across the Atlantic came a new concept of urban regeneration: public-private partnership to promote new business investment in inner cities, principally through tax concessions, and administered by quasi-public development organizations that went under names like downtown development authorities (DDA)…..They worked with considerable day to day freedom in their use of public funds.” The last few words say it all! “They worked with considerable day to day freedom in their use of public funds.” In this case in their use of punitive penalties!

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