Alan Chartock: Food trucks deliver great eats and price
Mike Seward wrote a great letter to The Berkshire Eagle this week and beat me to the punch on the matter of food trucks in Great Barrington. As you all probably know, the Great Barrington Board of Selectmen doesn't seem to want food trucks in town. Hey, I supported most of these young people when they ran for the board, but this stance just shows a lack of experience and maturity.
Now, I love the restaurant owners in Great Barrington and eat in their establishments a lot (witness my last two columns). But, I love food trucks, too. Food trucks fed my kids when they were at Cornell University. Food trucks are exactly what we need in a town where restaurants can be very pricey.
A lot of people can't afford $25 or $30 for an entree. Of course, there are eateries that don't charge those prices, but they'll have to face the additional competition just like radio stations do every time a new one pops up. Variety is the spice of life and I always think, the more the better.
Some of the best food in New York City and Albany comes from food trucks. If you want to charge licensing fees, fine. You can certainly regulate where they can park. Of course, many of our restaurant people will say no. In their shoes, I might object, too. Running a restaurant isn't easy. You've got to be good at it. If you're not, you're out of business. Trust me, food trucks won't be the reason that you fail. It should not be up to restaurateurs whether food trucks or any other competitors should be allowed
Of course, Great Barrington is about to experience a great upheaval as the ill-conceived Main Street reconstruction process goes forward. The trucks don't have to be in the middle of town.
In his letter, Seward made a great point about Sean Stanton, who hawks hot dogs and sausages at the Farmers Market on Saturdays. I love them. He voted to table the food truck matter. It is up to the town to decide whether and how to tax these trucks. Certainly the owners are expected to follow state and municipal laws. You pay sales tax in restaurants and the people in the trucks are expected to collect the same taxes. Some trucks have to pay several different localities because they move around.
When the Chartocks first came to Great Barrington in the very early ‘70s, you couldn't get a lobster until a very entrepreneurial guy had the idea of showing up on Thursday or Friday morning with a lobster truck. It didn't take long for the supermarkets and others to compete.
This summer when my professor daughter was looking for a way to make money, I suggested a food truck to her and her love, Dan. They thought about it and asked some questions but it didn't work out. After all, it isn't easy. You have to buy or rent a truck. It has to be outfitted. It has to meet health requirements and it has to be staffed by people who know what they are doing.
In the general scheme of things, it's a small matter but it is an important one. I will probably anger some of my best friends in the restaurant business but this is a matter that involves economics, sociology and fairness. Democracy ("from the people") theoretically involves what is best for everyone.
I like to think of our precious jewel at Lake Mansfield. I see all kinds of families using the facility, some cooking out, some drooling watching those who are cooking out. Wouldn't it be wonderful to be able to buy a hot dog or a vegetarian delight up there? I've seen the ice cream truck parked there. Food trucks would be perfect. Let's just play fair.
Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany.
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