Photo by a loves DC.
GM has received several requests lately asking what’s the deal with food vendors and Georgetown, more specifically why aren’t they any food vendors in Georgetown?
Well, there are several reasons, and despite changes on the horizon to the applicable rules, it seems unlikely that we’ll be seeing many or even any food vendors in Georgetown soon.
The District has a bit of a spotty history when it comes to street vendors. Prior to 1998, an old fashioned first-come-first-serve street-justice ruled. In that year, however, the District adopted new regulations clamping down on the market and instituting a moratorium for new food vendor licenses. This situation puttered along, with the quantity (and arguably the quality) of vendors slowly declining over the years. In 2006, the Coucil passed legislation to lift the moratorium and order DCRA to design new regulations addressing the marketplace.
This situation worsened in 2007 when the moratorium was actually lifted because DCRA hadn’t issued new regulations yet. That’s basically where we are today. There’s a big debate over the proposed regulations roiling right now. Old food vendors want to keep out new food vendors. Brick and mortar stores want to make life difficult for all food vendors. BIDs want to keep the businesses happy. And the public just wants a good bite to eat.
And during this period, the District has seen an influx of high end food trucks, like the fabulous Fojol Bros. pictured above. Technically speaking, these trucks are operating under rules set out for ice cream trucks. This forces them to keep moving and not set up in one place too long.
So where does Georgetown fit in to all of this?
First, although the questions GM got were about the lack of food vendors in Georgetown, it’s important to remember that there already are street vendors in Georgetown. They sell (presumably) knock-off purses and such on N St. and Prospect St. There just aren’t any food vendors.
Under the existing and proposed regulations, street vendors would be limited to certain sections in Georgetown. Here’s a map of the only places in Georgetown where street vendors are allowed (the green squares represent the first fifty feet of sidewalk off of Wisconsin, there are no locations on Wisconsin itself):
There are some vendors in these locations already, but GM doesn’t believe each of these spots is taken (he could be wrong about that). If that’s so, then once these regulations are passed a lottery will be conducted to issue permits to these locations. (But some of these locations may still not be permissible. For instance, the location cannot be within 100 feet of a school, which the O and P St. locations west of Wisconsin appear to violate. Also, a 10 foot passageway must be maintained, which is probably impossible at some of these locations.)
So no vendors on M, Wisconsin, or K, regardless of whether there’d be space and a market for them.
And given the fact that some of these designated locations are already taken, and others may not become available in the first place, it seems unlikely that food vendors will move in to the available spots.
But what about food trucks? That’s where all the action is these days anyway. Well, there’s not much good news there either. The proposed regulations appear to continue to treat food trucks like ice cream trucks, along with the prohibition against parking for too long. Moreover, they’d have a pretty tough time setting up shop in Georgetown. First, they can’t park within 40 feet of an intersection (a difficult spot to find with our small blocks). Second, they can’t set up within 60 feet of a restaurant that sells the same “type” of food. A vague restriction bound to inspire fights. Finally, while the DDOT director will be able to authorize specific locations for roadway vendors where they can set up shop all day long without having to keep moving, none of those can be on snow emergency routes, which includes all of M St. and Wisconsin Ave.
Long-story-short: there’s a lot of uncertainty about the future of street food vendors in DC, but it does not appear likely that changes will be made that would lead to the introduction of such vendors to Georgetown. For this, those 120 bricks-and-mortar restaurants are likely grateful.
Final Note: Honestly, this situation is truly complicated. If you understand it better than GM and can point out where he’s wrong, please leave a comment.