By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — The City Council this week again heard concerns raised by local restaurateurs at The Weirs about the presence of food vendors at the north end of Lakeside Avenue during Motorcycle Week, but agreed to address the issue after the rally in June.
Since 2007 the city has leased five 12-foot-by-10-foot spaces on the northeast end of Lakeside Avenue to three vendors, two of whom lease two spaces. After beginning as relatively small operations, the vendors have expanded, replacing their portable grills with food trucks and trailers.
Attorney Joe Driscoll IV, representing Robert and Michael Ames, owners of the Winnipesaukee Marketplace, described the situation as "a perfect storm of circumstances" with implications for other businesses throughout the city. "It's a citywide question," he said.
Driscoll told the council that three issues are at stake. First, he explained that the vendors leasing city property are competing directly with locally owned and operated restaurants. As the size of their operations have grown, he said that the vendors have "limited the true visibility of other businesses." Finally, he claimed that because the vendors are located near both railroad platform and pedestrian crosswalk their presence adds to "crowd control problems." Driscoll likened the situation to the city allowing a vendor to sell coffee outside Wayfarers Coffee Roaster on Main Street.
Ryan Carmella of East Coast Flight Craft, Inc., the boat dealership that recently acquired the Winnipesaukee Pier adjacent to the vendor spaces, told the councilors that the presence of the vendors has hindered efforts to lease units within the pier to restaurant operators.
However, Cathy Mathews, owner of Sparkey's Dogs, one of the three vendors, has repeatedly dismissed the concerns raised by nearby businesses. She contends that the established restaurants cater to a different set of patrons than those served by the street vendors. The crowds, she claims, gather either to get on or off the trains stopping at The Weirs or to use the crosswalk, not to queue for service from the vendors.
Following the decision of the council to monitor the situation during the year's rally, Mayor Ed Engler appeared to lend some legitimacy to the concerns of local business owners by suggesting that whatever the circumstances at The Weirs, the crux of the matter is the criteria to be applied when leasing public property to itinerant vendors.
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