After three years of back and forth, the new laws governing food vendors are finally going into effect.
City Hall is in the midst of phasing in the legislation, which the Board of Alders unanimously approved in April. The legislation overhauled food vendor operations throughout New Haven, creating four special vending districts — areas with a concentrated number of food carts and trucks — in the city, three of which became fully operational on July 1. But the final district — Sachem Street Special Vending District, between Ingalls Rink and Pauli Murray College — now faces delays after the University failed to meet its deadline to construct a green space and sidewalk near the district.
The 10 food carts now near the north side of Sachem Street moved from the Ingalls Rink parking lot to the sidewalk by August 15, the date the city had initially set for that special vending district to be fully functional. Yet six other carts will remain on the rink’s lot until Yale finishes construction on the green space and the other side of the street is operational for vendors.
“We decided that it was easier to move the carts out there right away and deal with the others in a couple of months,” said Steve Fontana, who has spearheaded City Hall’s efforts as New Haven’s deputy economic development director.
The city aims to have the six remaining carts moved by October 15, Fontana said.
As those six carts lag behind the other 10 in the transition to the district, Lali Grill Manager Shilmat Tessema said her cart and the five others are losing out on sales as the bulk of customers roam the sidewalk, away from the Ingalls Rink lot.
But operators of the other 10 carts were not uniformly pleased with the change. According to several vendors, it is difficult to unload carts, paying for parking is burdensome and foot traffic on the sidewalk is congested, causing the lines of different vendors to collide and weave with one another. Mecha-Uma owner Abbo Hirata said he is concerned for the customers’ safety once the other carts are set up across the street, and people walk from sidewalk to sidewalk.
Vendors are also worried that customers will no longer be able to spot their carts, after becoming familiar with each carts’ location over the years, Tessema said.
“Before this, I think customers knew where you were,” she said. “But now, everything changes.”
In fact, when Peter Yost, a lecturer at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, came to Sachem Street for lunch, he said he struggled to find his favorite cart. It was his first time in the special district after August 15, when the majority of the carts moved.
Despite these initial complaints, Fontana expressed faith that, as time progresses, the food vendors will adapt to the new district. Though vending on the sidewalk differs from vending in a parking lot, Fontana said the obstacles the Sachem Street Special Vending District is facing have been remedied before. For years, food carts on the sidewalk near Cedar Street have handled similar situations, such as filling parking meters throughout the business day and unloading their carts on the sidewalk.
But once customers rediscover where their favorite carts are, finding them again should be easier. The city has fixated the number and location of units in each district, assigning a specific cart to each of those units so vendors serve at the same designated spot day after day.
Originally, the city was going to hire a full-time employee within the building department who would ensure vendors were in those assigned places and in compliance with the new cleanliness laws that were included in the legislative package. But Fontana said that hire has been delayed due to the city’s spending freeze. In the meantime, the police department has been trained and will ensure vendors are licensed, insured and in compliance with other mandates, he said.
In addition to the 16 carts, three trucks are licensed to operate in the Sachem Street Special Vending District, although only two trucks can sell at the same time.
Myles Odermann | email@example.com | @myles_odermann