The food truck craze has caught on in the Berkshires, but in Pittsfield, not everyone is happy with downtown’s new menu. Even though there are only two food trucks operating in Pittsfield, they are stirring things up in the downtown area. City Councilor and Chair of the Ordinance and Rules Subcommittee, Melissa Mazzeo, says there is nothing on the city books in terms of how and where food trucks can operate, but they are increasing in popularity.
“They’re just kind of coming by storm, you see the across the country, these are big on the West Coast, but you are just starting to see them this way," Mazzeo said. "Now we need to start putting things on the books.”
The city is working to identify 10 areas where food trucks could potentially operate that would balance the rights of permanent downtown merchants and those of the food truck operators. City Planner CJ Hoss says having food trucks in Pittsfield is a good thing, but he understands the concerns from business owners who worry trucks are keeping customers from coming into their stores and restaurants.
“From those that are looking at it as a problem, I think it’s a good problem to have," Hoss said. "I don’t think we should look to be pushing them out.”
Pam Tobin is the Executive Director of Downtown Pittsfield, an association of businesses. She says the issue isn’t about competition, it’s about food trucks blocking prime parking and advertising for the brick and mortar businesses on North Street. Kathy Lloyd, co-owner of the How We Roll food truck, says another food truck, Amanda’s Kitchen, stirred up this issue when it started parking on North Street this summer.
“Another food truck from Great Barrington, came in, got the variance, and just started parking in front of local downtown lunch spots," Lloyd said. "They blew the whole place up and now we have to have rules. I think it’s just a matter, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”
Lloyd says her truck, which she co-owns with her husband Gabe, has been operating in Pittsfield since March after working with the city to find out if and where they could operate. She says they were told they get could get a parking permit in order to operate beyond the regular posted parking limitations, but decided against it.
“Rather than getting into a bitter battle of where we could park, we just chose to find other places near downtown but not on North Street," said Lloyd.
Jan Seward, co-owner of Amanda’s Kitchen, says her truck, which many blame for the issue, was welcomed with open arms by the city of Pittsfield initially for a Third Thursday event. She says during that first event, the city gave her a permit to park in front of a hardware store. While parked there the merchant came out to argue the truck was blocking customers from getting to the store, even though that portion of North Street was closed off to traffic for the event. After the first Third Thursday, Seward says her truck was going to be moved to a different location for the next one.
“We don’t need to be harassed, especially because we in every case were completely within the guidelines set by the city of Pittsfield," said Seward.
Other Berkshire municipalities like North Adams and Great Barrington have also held discussions over food trucks. North Adams Director of Health James O’Brien says food trucks in the city have had to use private parking areas, like the MASS MoCA parking lot, according to city councilor David Bond. O’Brien says the ordinance is tabled for now.
Great Barrington’s ordinance is on hold until next year. Seward, who is from Great Barrington and hoped to operate in south county, says she is very disappointed the Selectmen didn’t act on the proposed plan. But she stresses that’s not the reason the truck began operating in Pittsfield.
“One of the merchants in Pittsfield actually used that as a way to kind of smear us on Facebook by saying, ‘The only they’re up here is because they can’t be in Barrington, Barrington doesn’t want them so they came up here," said Seward.
All the parties say that cooperation and clear guidelines need to be set up to insure understanding and opportunity for the city, the permanent businesses, and food trucks in Pittsfield. Tobin offered her idea for integrating food trucks into a revitalized area of downtown.
“The city has invested millions of dollars to improve The Common," she said. "It would get employees down to The Common, enjoy the park area and you could maybe set up food truck vendors there.”
Mazzeo says her subcommittee is working from scratch looking at how other municipalities have issued such ordinances and will present a proposal at its next meeting, which will be announced at the August 13 City Council meeting.