Lightfoot pushes Chicago city council to loosen food truck restrictions

Lightfoot pushes Chicago city council to loosen food truck restrictions

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is sponsoring a city ordinance allowing food trucks and other mobile entrepreneurs to operate with more freedom on Chicago’s streets.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has proposed a city ordinance that would double the time food trucks and mobile boutiques are able to park and serve customers.

Food trucks are limited to parking and serving customers at a single location for two hours a day. The proposed ordinance looks to double that limit to four hours. This increase would also apply to the few mobile boutiques, or mobile merchants, that operate in the city.

“Four hours would open up twice as much opportunity for us,” Ramon Torres, owner of Aztec Dave’s food trucks, toldthe Chicago Sun-Times.

This proposal is a step towards loosening restrictions on the city’s food truck industry. It is not uncommon for food truck vendors in Chicago to suffer police crackdowns, and many lose business trying to navigate the city’s burdensome regulatory landscape. Between 2012 and 2017, Chicago’s food truck presence nearly halved.

The proposed ordinance does not, however, overturn the city’s infamous 200-foot rule, which requires they be at least 200 feet from a bricks-and-mortar food establishment. The 200-foot rule has long been the subject of litigation, with the Illinois Supreme Court striking a blow to food truck owners and upholding the rule in May 2019. On behalf of the Illinois Policy Institute, the Liberty Justice Center filed a legal brief in support of food truck entrepreneurs.

Lightfoot’s proposed ordinance is also a renewed attempt at more permanent licensing for mobile boutiques – a long-term solution for business owners that have been operating for years under temporary licenses from the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection. Mobile boutiques, also known as mobile merchants, are mobile storefronts inside retrofitted trucks – a way of operating a retail business without the costly overhead of renting a store. Ever since 2016, the few mobile boutiques in the city have been operating under the city’s temporary emerging business permit, which was meant to span two years. Aldermen couldn’t agree on a long-term solution in mid-2018, and the permits were extended for another year.

Lightfoot’s proposal to increase the time limit to four hours addresses what has been a sticking point for mobile boutique business owners and a common complaint from food truck owners. “I don’t know any business that can be profitable on two hours a day,” Rebecca Mueller, a mobile boutique owner, told ABC 7 Chicago in 2018.

The combination of restrictions and the state of regulatory uncertainty contributes to the small presence of mobile boutiques – there are only seven permitted by the city, according to the Sun-Times. Lightfoot’s proposal may open an expansion in entrepreneurship among would-be mobile merchants.

The City Council should move to pass Mayor Lightfoot’s proposed ordinance, expanding opportunities for both food trucks and mobile merchants to earn a living. The ordinance is a good step toward further reforming the city’s stringent regulations on food trucks, while finally bringing the regulatory certainty that mobile boutiques have been awaiting for years.

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