LACONIA — Sausages, smothered in onions and peppers, lay at the center of an ongoing dispute about the city's policy of seeking to encourage a diversity of vendors without stifling competition among them during Motorcycle Week.
When the City Council met this week, Cathy Matthews, the owner of Sharkey's Dogs, revived the issue that first arose last July when she complained that the city had rented the space adjacent to her own to another food vendor, Jerry Gaucher, whose menu closely matched her own offerings. In particular, she claimed that both featured sausages procured from the same manufacturer.
In 2013 and 2104 Matthews and Gaucher have each rented two of the five 10-foot by 20-foot spaces at the north end of the boardwalk, which are owned by the city. A soda vendor has rented the fifth space. Prior to 2013, Matthews sold sausages, hamburgers and hot dogs, along with french fries and soda, from two spaces without a competitor next door. In 2013, Gaucher, who earlier operated at the Lakeport Fire Station, rented the adjacent two spaces.
Apparently at the request of Nancy Brown, assistant to the city manager, Gaucher agreed to not to duplicate Matthews' menu but to offer steak tips, chicken tenders, onion rings and pizza. Both sold french fries, but Matthews sold Coke and Gaucher sold Pepsi. However, last year, when the same two vendors — Matthews and Gaucher — rented the same four spaces Gaucher added sausages, hamburgers and hot dogs to his menu, prompting the complaint from Matthews.
City Manager Scott Myers reminded Matthews that in October 2012 the City Council changed the policy governing the spaces on the boardwalk to read "the city reserves the right to limit the maximum number of vendors selling similar products, and does not offer exclusivity for any product sold. The maximum number of vendors selling similar products shall be two." The policy applies solely to the spaces on the boardwalk owned by the city, not to vendor spaces rented by private landlords.
Gaucher has already rented space for the 2015 rally while Matthews, who has yet to submit an application, this week asked the City Council for an assurance that she would not be operating alongside a competitor whose menu mirrored her own. She claimed that the policy, which denied exclusivity to any one vendor and limited the number selling similar products to two, had not been formally adopted. However, the minutes of the City Council meeting of October 9, 2012 indicate that the policy was adopted by a unanimous vote.
The policy did not restrict Gaucher's choice of menu. But, in 2013 he agreed not to duplicate Matthews' offerings only to reverse course a year later. Matthews claimed that he had "contracted" with the city and insinuated that he enjoyed a special relationship with Myers, which prompted the city manager to counter that he did not know Gaucher and would not have his integrity impugned.
Myers said yesterday that the policy is clear in allowing two vendors selling similar products to rent neighboring spaces on the boardwalk. The city, he said, can encourage, but not require, adjacent vendors to offer distinct menus.
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