Saratoga Springs Will Allow Trackside Water Bottle Sales With Restrictions

Mar 22, 2018

A ban on a long-standing tradition during track season in Saratoga Springs has been reversed, with some new restrictions.

Fans flock to Saratoga Race Course every summer hoping to make a few bucks betting on thoroughbreds.

But there’s also an economy outside the gates.

It’s difficult to walk into the main entrance on Union Avenue and not encounter teenagers selling newspapers and tipsheets and bottles of water from coolers. For 40 days, the track becomes a summer job for locals as horses race for millions inside.

Here’s then-13-year-old Jordan Wohl who was hocking water bottles with a friend on opening day in 2015.

“I just really liked it a lot and you make good money too. I love the people. The customers are what make me do it. They motivate me.”

But over the last couple seasons, some city public safety officials say the water-bottle trade has gotten out of hand. At a city council meeting in October 2017, then-Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen announced a ban on water bottle sales.

Here’s Mathiesen reading a letter from Police Chief Greg Veitch.

“Over the past two years, police have identified unattended children under the age of 14 selling water for several hours at a time from multiple coolers that are being restocked by parents multiple times during the day. Some individuals have been observed selling items such as t-shirts, soft drinks in addition to water,” read Mathiesen.

Other reported problems: altercations between parents, turf wars, and coolers and chairs being left overnight, locked to the fence outside the track. According to the police chief, some were coming from as far away as Albany with carloads of water to sell.

Over the past several months, Saratoga Springs Commissioner of Accounts John Franck, as well as city attorneys and interns, have been working to find a solution to the problems on the sidewalk.

Tuesday night, the group presented its proposal.

Henry Jaffe, an intern from Skidmore College, addressed the council. He said the working group consulted with the police department, city code enforcement and other officials.

“There are certain areas where there’s a lot of traffic where they didn’t feel it was safe for people to be selling water where they have been,” said Jaffe.

Under the proposal, water sales would be restricted to the area between the fence surrounding Saratoga Race Course and the sidewalk on Lincoln Avenue, Nelson Avenue, and Frank Sullivan Place. Sellers would be kept away from main entrances. No seller can occupy more than 9 feet of space.  And all spots would be first-come-first served. Equipment cannot be left overnight and water vendors would be restricted to one cooler – no restocks. Parents would have to provide proof of age, and working papers would be required for any vendors over 14.

All the while, the city’s public safety department would be able to pull the plug on the water sales at any time.

Franck said he also would reach out to local schools to give administrators a heads up about the new program later this spring.

With that, Franck introduced the measure and it received unanimous support from the five-member council.

The track opens in July.