Council Delays Vendor Vote

Grace Coffee Company on Main Street in Blythewood. The mobile vendor has recently found itself in the eye of the storm revolving around Town Council’s debate on new regulations. (Photo/James Denton)

Grace Coffee Company on Main Street in Blythewood. The mobile vendor has recently found itself in the eye of the storm revolving around Town Council’s debate on new regulations. (Photo/James Denton)

BLYTHEWOOD (Feb. 2, 2017) – After hearing from a half a dozen local residents and business owners opposed to the new regulations, Town Council Monday night put off a vote on first reading of an ordinance that would require itinerate merchants to pack up their gear at the end of each business day and remove their vehicles from downtown property.

“We are locally owned and operated,” Matt Beyer, owner of Grace Coffee Company, which operates out of a trailer in the 200 block of Main Street. “We create jobs in Blythewood. I believe we’ve become something that Blythewood is proud of, maybe a little iconic, and something that Blythewood wants to see continue.”

Mayor J. Michael Ross cited the coffee company during a work session last week as an example of why the ordinance was necessary.

“We now have a coffee vendor,” Ross said at last week’s meeting. “When we initially talked with them (coffee vendor), they were going to take the trailer away each night. But now it sits there. It’s another example of how a vending stand comes in and is just left there. It’s frustrating.”

Daune Walker, who owns the lot on which Grace Coffee operates, came to the defense of the coffee stand Monday night.

“What started out as an itinerate vendor has turned into a full-fledged business, operating Monday through Saturday,” Walker said. “We do not feel it is an eyesore to the town, but an asset. The trailer is adorable, the property is kept clean and neat at all times. I’ve never seen one speck of trash the whole time the Beyers have been operating their business.”

Walker then asked that Council consider grandfathering Grace Coffee in, allowing it to continue operating as-is under the new ordinance. But Councilman Larry Griffin said every existing itinerate merchant would then have to also be grandfathered in.

“I have no problem if we’re going to do it, but understand that once we do it it’s across the board,” Griffin said. “Because once we do it, then there’s no pick one and not pick another. Miss Walker says she’d like to grandfather (Grace Coffee in). I have no problem with that as long as we understand that everything now is grandfathered in.”

McKayla Barno, manager of the Blythewood Farmers Market, said she hoped Council would strike a balance between eliminating unsightly vendors while at the same time encouraging itinerate vendors to grow into brick-and-mortar shops. Kristin Benini, owner of Bits-N-Pieces, agreed. A mobile business like Grace Coffee, she said, “makes Blythewood Blythewood.” And Lake Ashley resident Travis Wright said the coffee truck has been “a wonderful addition to our town.” Council should make it easier, he said, for Grace Coffee to continue doing business.

But Ross said the proposed ordinance was not aimed at Grace Coffee specifically.

“I want y’all to hear this: This (ordinance) had nothing to do with Grace Coffee,” Ross said.

Ross said discussion of the ordinance began before Grace Coffee had set up shop on Main Street. Instead, he said, the ordinance was aimed at a potential slew of other mobile merchants that could descend upon the town unregulated.

“If we don’t pass an ordinance and this comes around in March and the gentleman who had the trailer with the vegetables and the peaches and the cutest little grandson; well that’s great, but he’s going to pull his up, and Mr. Sharpe says he can go on his property, he’s going to pull up his trailer again and he’s going to unhook the truck and he’s going to leave it there for four or five months while he does that and he’ll be competing against the farmers market,” Ross said. “If the gentleman who owns the corner here in Blythewood right across from First Community Bank decides that the guy who comes with mag wheels and tires and he says ‘hey, I’m going to come and I’m going to set up during the day and I’ll just pull the things down and lock it up and leave it on the property,’ I believe he can still do that and he sits there. If next to him on Harold Boney’s property somebody wants to open up a cute trailer and put it there. . . . I don’t know if you really realize what the potential – and all that really doesn’t have anything to do with Grace Coffee.

“The trouble is every one of them might not be like Grace Coffee,” Ross said, “and I think that’s what we were trying to protect this town from when you do have mortar and brick buildings that are there that pay property taxes and come in and do what they are and are businesses and we try to do everything we can to protect them.”

Under the proposed ordinance, Ross said, a mobile merchant can come in, set up shop and do business, but once the business is closed the trailer cannot remain parked downtown overnight. And while mobile merchants are not paying a property tax, they are subject to a 2 percent hospitality tax if they are serving food and/or beverages that have been prepared or modified on site. They also pay a $40 fee for an initial business license and the following year must pay the annual fee based on their gross income of the previous year.

“I’ve got a great deal of sympathy for start-up businesses,” Councilman Malcolm Gordge said. “We want to maintain our reputation for being business-friendly. We don’t want to appear to be putting up barriers at every opportunity that we can. Maybe there’s a way we can adjust the language in the (ordinance) that will actually reflect what we want. For one day (not operating), that seems completely unreasonable. As written I cannot support it.”

Councilman Eddie Baughman also said he could not support the ordinance after hearing so much opposition to it and no voices supporting it.

“I would like to remind you again,” Ross reiterated, “if we’re sitting here in six months and there’s five or six of these (mobile merchants) in the Town Center District and we go through this, then there’ll be five or six times the number of people that say they have a small business and they’re just trying to get started and they have a trailer on this property.”

One such example may have presented itself during citizens’ comment on the ordinance.

Brian Keller, owner of Pelican Snoballs, told Council he was considering a mobile unit. Pelican Snoballs has been trying for nearly two years, he said, to open a brick-and-mortar location in Blythewood but has not been able to reconcile its color scheme with Town requirements.

“We have a mobile unit already,” Keller said. “If we can get it to happen, maybe we can do something like that and it eventually will lead into a permanent brick and mortar location.”

But the equipment inside the mobile unit, Keller said, is probably not rugged enough to withstand daily moving. Thus, Keller asked Council to consider allowing mobile units to remain parked downtown overnight.

“I’m telling you guys, you’re going to be sitting here in six months and it ain’t going to be Grace Coffee,” Ross said, “it’s going to be something else and there’s not going to be anything you can do about it then.”

But Baughman moved to postpone a vote on first reading until Council’s Feb. 27 meeting. Griffin seconded the motion, which carried unanimously. Councilman Tom Utroska was absent with illness from Monday night’s meeting.


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