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Objections Overruled:
Campus Vendors Will be Regulated

It started out with a bang, and ended with an ordinance. After many months of wrangling between Penn administrators and the University City vendors -- culminating in a public hearing in City Hall -- Philadelphia City Council passed an ordinance on April 22 regulating vending in the area. By July 22, most of the 90-some vendors in University City will have to move from their current locations along the streets surrounding campus. Some will end up on different streets -- the ordinance provides for 100 street and sidewalk locations -- while up to 45 will land spaces in the five "fresh air food plazas" being built by Penn on University land. The bill was introduced by Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, whose district includes the University, and was unanimously approved by Council.
   Given the shortage of affordable restaurants in the area, the food trucks and carts are quite popular among students, faculty, and staff, and many students had rallied to the vendors' defense. "This is the biggest issue on campus," Jason Eisner, a graduate student in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, told City Council (while other vendors and their supporters held up signs that read: "Fast, cheap, and yummy"). "Vending is important to our lives," Eisner added. "It creates jobs in West Philadelphia. It also creates culinary variety in and around University City. It helps cash-strapped students ... who can't afford to eat in restaurants."
   But the University has been working hard -- and spending money -- to improve retail activity in the area. To protect its investments and improve safety (as well as the physical appearance of the surrounding blocks), it has wanted to regulate the vendors, who do an estimated $12-15 million worth of business each year but pay no rent and park all day on the streets and sidewalks.
   After noting that vending is a "time-honored tradition within the University City area," Glenn Bryan, Penn's director of city relations, told Council that "there has been an unbridled, almost chaotic proliferation of vending activity in University City" in recent years, while Center City and other parts of Philadelphia have introduced "stringent regulation of vending." He said that the ordinance provides for a "greater number of vending locations than now exist"; that "no current vendor would be without a potential site to conduct business"; and that "convenient vending locations would be available from every part of campus."
   "We have an obligation to the second-largest employer in the City of Philadelphia," said Council President John Street -- who once operated a vending truck himself -- during the public hearing. "If you don't think that I and the other members are conscious of all the economic benefits that flow from [Penn], you're wrong. The University has rights as a property owner, and I think that's often forgotten."
   After the vote, Scott Goldstein, owner of Scott's Vegetarian Cuisine food truck and head of the University City Vendors Alliance, took a practical line. "We're going to make the best of a difficult situation," he said. "I think the University's power was made very clear in City Council. There will be several vendors who will suffer; several vendors who will be unaffected; and there may even be several who will do better. But ultimately, the consumer will suffer -- in terms of convenience, anyway. The quality of the vending may see an improvement." For one thing, he noted, vendors at the food plazas will be forced to pay more attention to aesthetics than they have in the past.
   Among the challenges to Penn administrators was finding locations for the food plazas, since several proposed sites drew protests from faculty and students who didn't want the plazas too close to their classrooms. The sites are: along the east side of 40th Street between Locust and Walnut; at 33rd and South; near 37th and Walnut (between Gimbel Gymnasium and the parking garage); in the triangular parking lot between 33rd, 34th, and Spruce Streets, near HUP; and behind Meyerson Hall along 34th Street, between Locust and Walnut. For a dollar a month, the vendors will get running water, electrical hookups, and garbage removal.
   Goldstein said the vendors are trying to come up with an equitable system of assigning themselves new locations, based on seniority, proximity to the various locations, the kind of products served, residency (some vendors live far from West Philadelphia), aesthetics, and cooperation with the various laws and regulations. He noted last month that "several groups of vendors are considering pursuing an injunction," though he added that he himself has decided to "make the best of the situation as it is now."

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Copyright 1998 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 5/25/98