The fight over food trucks continues in Princeton

PRINCETON — The argument over food trucks in Princeton has boiled down to basically one question — should they be allowed to operate on Main Street or within a 200-foot distance of a brick and mortar food business?

It seems to be the one hang-up preventing Princeton City Council from voting on an ordinance regulating food trucks. And that hang-up involves Barrel Society, which is a brick and mortar bar establishment in Princeton that has been inviting food trucks to set up in front of its Main Street business these past six months.

What started as a new idea to get customers downtown during the tough pandemic days, has turned into a popular attraction for both Barrel Society and Princeton. People have grown to love the experience of trying new foods from out of town while enjoying a drink at the bar. The idea has taken off so well that Barrel Society owner Nick Gorogianis is now inviting food trucks several nights out of the week.

While customers are enjoying the new opportunity, brick and mortar food businesses say it’s negatively impacting their business, which have already taken a hit from the COVID-19 pandemic. They argue that more regulation needs to be put on food truck vendors to limit direct competition.

Gorogianis disagreed Monday during Princeton City Council’s meeting where he spoke to the council about how this complaint from brick and mortar food businesses comes down to “jealousy and fear of competition.”

“We live and operate in a free market society and competition breeds creativity,” he said. “Jealousy and fear of competition are not legitimate factors in this.”

Legitimate complaints he does consider is the loud generator noise food trucks produce, which he said he’s working with an electrical contractor to allow food trucks to plug in for power at his establishment to prevent the noise; also one of the food trucks he brings in already has purchased a noiseless generator, he said. The fees from food trucks, he said he’s OK with seeing them increase yearly or on a per-visit basis. He said it’s a fair cost for the city to charge food trucks coming in. Parking concerns are also something he considers a fair argument and is willing to compromise that food trucks only take up one parallel parking spot along Main Street when they set up for business.

The popularity of food trucks at Barrel Society is so keen, it has supporters in this argument who attended Monday’s meeting to back Gorogianis and attempt to sway the council in allowing food trucks to remain on Main Street.

The supporters say limiting the food trucks to only operate in the parks at both ends of town is not a fair proposal; they urged that Barrel Society’s food trucks are attracting people to Princeton; they said that Gorogianis has sold Princeton through his food truck idea not just his own business and that’s what’s drawing people to town; Gorogianis has created a new culture that people are excited about; they say having food trucks in the heart of Princeton actually is good for brick and mortar businesses as it draws people to Main Street where they’re more prone to shop in the downtown stores when they’re there; even Rick Wilkin, owner of the building north of Barrel Society, spoke up and said the food trucks are not an issue for him being so close, the sound from their generators is not overwhelming, having them take up one parking spot in front of Barrel Society doesn’t create parking issues on Main Street and he’s in favor of food trucks, especially those associated with a particular business in town, as long as it’s not greatly effecting other businesses.

As for argument on the other side, Steve Kelly, who said he was speaking on behalf of 15 brick and mortar businesses in Princeton and one food truck, although he did not disclose which businesses when questioned by Princeton City Council member Jerry Neumann, reminded the council that it’s these businesses that employ over 130 employees, have invested more than $2.5 million in facade and building improvements, pay real estate taxes, along with utilities, garbage service, etc. He also argued that these businesses bring tourism to Princeton and have loyal followings.

These business owners recently got together and drafted an ordinance themselves, which Kelly presented to the city council, along with an Illinois Supreme Court Case that dealt with the city of Chicago and regulation of a food truck business. Kelly encouraged the council to read through the case, which its ruling paints a picture of why brick and mortar businesses help preserve stability of the community through their investments and permanent spot for tourist to visit.

Kelly said Princeton doesn’t want to create a dangerous situation where it could loose brick and mortar businesses by allowing food trucks to water down the stability of these businesses.

As for the ordinance, it calls for three main regulations over food trucks — a 200-foot distance between them and a brick and mortar food business, a four-hour operating limit on a permit and they be limited to operate in either Rotary Park or Soldiers and Sailors Park.

“These people took time out of their day to help you make a tough decision,” Kelly told the council. “I think everybody in this room wants Princeton to be a success. There’s no doubt about that. That’s not done by decisiveness, that’s not done by name calling, that’s not done by saying ‘try harder.’ That’s not how you build a community. You build a community by giving good service, and working together on issues like this.”

While the court case offers up food for thought, a couple members in Monday’s audience also argued that Princeton can’t be compared to Chicago.

“I don’t think it’s fair to restrain businesses in Princeton based off of what they did for big city Chicago,” said Princeton resident Chris Nesbitt.

“We’re a small town, we operate on a small level. We do not have 200 food trucks operating and competing with our brick and mortar businesses at once,” added Natilee Gibson, also a Princeton resident.

The city council took no action regarding the food trucks Monday evening, but will meet again on Monday, May 17, at 7 p.m. in the council chambers where the first reading of a proposed ordinance could be on the table for a vote. If approved, a second and final reading would need to take place at a following meeting for the ordinance to be effective.

Goldie Rapp

Goldie Rapp is the Associate Editor of the Bureau County Republican and Putnam County Record. She has worked for Shaw Media since 2013.