Time for Chicago to return the love from street vendors

On Jan. 8, a City Council committee?will?consider reforms that Mayor Lori Lightfoot?proposed?shortly after taking office.?And those reforms should pass.

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79彩票注册网址Mobile merchants have had a bumpy road in Chicago. The detours and roadblocks started nearly five years ago at City Hall for Ravenswood photographer and art dealer Juana Ryan, but she never considered packing up and driving away with her gallery on wheels. 

“I love Chicago,” she says. “I don’t want to go anywhere else.” 

79彩票注册网址Most street vendors in the city share Ryan’s hometown affection. They take pride in growing the Chicago economy and contributing to vibrant pedestrian districts. On Jan. 8, a City Council committee will have the opportunity to return the love when it considers reforms that Mayor Lori Lightfoot proposed shortly after taking office. 

Among other concessions in the proposed ordinance, Ryan welcomes the prospect of permanent, legal status for her boutique, StellaLily. She currently operates with just a two-year, nonrenewable emerging business permit, which the city has extended for short stretches twice. 

The uncertainty leaves Ryan exposed to regulatory whims. “This permit hanging over my head has dampened my enthusiasm,” she says. “I want to be legit.” 

79彩票注册网址Her journey started in 2015, while sipping red wine on her back porch with friends. That’s when she got the idea for a mobile art gallery. Before dropping her life savings into the venture, she approached City Hall to make sure the plan was feasible. 

79彩票注册网址“They said I had a great idea, and it would be no problem to get a permit,” Ryan says. 

79彩票注册网址Based on that assurance, she bought a Pace bus, tore out the seats and worked with her husband to customize the interior. She also invested $4,000 on an exterior wrap and $10,000 on the initial inventory—candles, jewelry, ceramics, glassware and other products from about 20 local artists in addition to her own photos. 

79彩票注册网址The last step was picking up the promised permit. What she got instead was red tape. City planners decided they had no rules in place for mobile stores, so Ryan spent the next 18 months working in the shadows. 

“You feel vulnerable,” Ryan says. “I wasn’t taking the truck out as often as I could, and certainly I wasn’t going anywhere near the downtown area. That limited where I was going, and it limited my bank account.” 

Restricting the mobility of stores like StellaLily also limits consumer choice and squanders opportunities for goodwill. “My truck is fabulous,” Ryan says. “When you come in, I will greet you as an ambassador of Chicago.” 

The city eventually granted the temporary permit, but Ryan needs the council to take the next step. “We are close,” she says. “I finally can see the light at the end of the tunnel.” 

Mother-and-daughter business partners Jera and Joslyn Slaughter have had a similar journey with their mobile clothing outlet, 79彩票注册网址 the Thrifty Fashionista. Like Ryan, they have faced regulatory hurdles but remain committed to the city they love. 

79彩票注册网址“We never thought about doing it any place other than Chicago,” Jera Slaughter says. “This is our home.” 

79彩票注册网址They started with a bricks-and-mortar clothing store in the Bronzeville District, but put their operation on wheels after seeing the possibility on television. Now they literally drive sales with their mobile outlet, which includes a fitting room. 

“When customers come to visit us, it’s literally like stepping into a boutique,” Joslyn Slaughter says. “It’s a women’s oasis.” 

79彩票注册网址The partners operate within the law, but they say anticompetitive measures designed to protect special interests have chased other mobile vendors underground. “There are a lot of trucks that are actually out that have no choice but to pay a fine if they are caught because the licenses are very restrictive,” Jera Slaughter says. 

79彩票注册网址The economic protectionism is nothing new in a city that has marginalized street vendors since the 1920s, when Chicago declared roadside stands an eyesore and began limiting their movements. More recent rules have made conditions especially hard on food truck operators. 

79彩票注册网址Until 2012, mobile kitchens in the city could not even prepare food on board. Now they face other restrictions, including limited vending areas, 200-foot buffer zones around bricks-and-mortar restaurants that block access to 97% of the Loop, and two-hour parking limits. 

79彩票注册网址The proposed ordinance would double the food truck parking limits to four hours. The Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Law School, which has helped Ryan and the Slaughters navigate the startup process, sees the parking concession and other reforms as a step in the right direction. 

79彩票注册网址More action should follow. Entrepreneurs attached to Chicago have lived long enough in one-sided relationships. Now it’s time for the city they love to reciprocate. 

Elizabeth Kregor is director of the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Law School. Daryl James is an Institute for Justice writer in Arlington, Va. 

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