The Ditch Witch, the Paddy Wagon, the Dune Doggy, the Beach Dog. They’ve been in business for years, even decades, and East Hampton summers wouldn’t be the same without them. But in the last couple years, more peddling newcomers and out-of-towners have been hitting the streets, and this year, perhaps as people try to get more creative with their means of making a buck, it looks like there could be more peddlers than ever.
While in years past, there were only eight peddlers’ permits issued townwide, last year there were 16 and this year, 14 permits have been issued and six applications are pending, according to Deputy Town Clerk Carole Brennan. Of those 14, two were to people who help one of the other permit holders and two were for coffee trucks that visit work sites. At least three of the pending applications want to sell only coffee—that is, gourmet coffee.
“More people want to get involved in it this year,” Ms. Brennan said. “There’s no limit to the number of permits issued, and the fact that we don’t assign any peddler one location means that if two or three want to go to the same one, there’s not too much to stop them.” Ms. Brennan said least six, but possibly eight, plan to operate in Montauk.
This issue has angered some Montauk residents, who said they started growing concerned by the increased number of street vendors in Montauk last summer. They were specifically concerned with a new vendor selling snow cones at the western Ditch Plains parking lot, which reduced the precious little parking available at the popular beach—parking that this year, for the first time in history, locals must pay for.
In the Town Code, there is no provision which states that peddlers must pay for beach parking. Rather, they pay a $200 fee for their vehicle’s peddling permit and $50 for a permit for each person involved in the business. There is then a list of eight roads, beaches and/or parks listed in the code that specify where peddlers can park their trailers, wagons or trucks for the season.
“Most other towns bid sites out so they’re making more revenue than we are,” Ms. Brennan said. Such is the system in Southampton. She said that the Town Board had asked her to research how other towns regulate peddlers’ permits last fall, but it had taken little action since.
“Carts are very hip right now,” said Lili Adams, a Montauk resident and owner of the Ditch Witch. “But Suffolk County is extremely difficult.” While East Hampton Town issues the permits, vendors first must go through a long, tedious process with the county to get their food handlers’ and vehicle safety licenses. “What you can do in New York City you can’t do out here,” Ms. Adams said. “You can’t prepare anything, you can’t have a grill.” She thinks that while there may be many pending applications, it’s likely that they will fall through.
Members of the Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee said they were concerned about the location of Belly’s Sno-balls, which is going on its third year in business this summer and parks on the grass in the northeast corner of Kirk Park. A couple of residents said they felt that it was causing a traffic hazard when people stopped their cars to buy the shaved ice and asked that the Town Board request Belly’s Sno-balls to move.
Eric Tilstra, the owner of Belly’s Sno-balls, who said his family goes back generations in Montauk, said that no one had asked him to move yet. But he said 99.9 percent of his traffic comes on foot or bike and that his location in Kirk Park is the safest place for kids to walk up on their own and enjoy their shaved ice on the grass around the trailer. When people park illegally in front of his trailer, he said he makes them move before they approach his window.
When Mr. Tilstra and his wife Tara received their permit from Ms. Brennan, she told them Kirk Park was one of the places they could be. “
We just looked at the parking lot and this seemed to be the best place for us. We were out of the way, far from the entrance to the lot,” Mr. Tilstra said. “I’ll abide by town rules, but if they’re going to make me move I would like it to be justified. I mean where’s the data that proves that I’m causing all this traffic?”
Upon Ms. Brennan’s request, Robert Rodgers, the director of the Town Parks and Recreation Department, did visit every park, road or beach that is listed in the Town Code where vendors can remain parked for the season, and circled on an aerial photo the best spot at each site for the vehicle to be parked. For Kirk Park, Mr. Rodgers circled a spot east of the booth near the entrance to the lot. However, until the Town Code is amended, the peddlers’ permit does not delineate specific spots for peddlers to park and his suggestions can’t be enforced.
Part of the concern over an increased number of peddlers comes from worry that they are taking away local business, while they don’t have to pay the same high rents. “Eight or nine people are going to be utilizing our public land and making a lot of money while our local businesses have to pay rent, insurance,” said Lisa Grenci, the chairwoman of the Montauk CAC, at a meeting on Monday, May 4.
“The notion from local people is we’ve been there a long time, we’re reliable and everyone knows us,” said the Ditch Witch’s Ms. Adams, who is also a Montauk resident. “And then for someone to think that he can just get this truck and pull in, it upsets people. But there’s nothing that says you have to live here year-round in order to run a business here.”