Delicious iced coffee trike doesn't sway council on Ybor vendor rules

click to enlarge Joel Davis and his coffee cart. - Facebook
Joel Davis and his coffee cart.

As CL contributor Ray Roa wrote in February, Joel Davis sells pressure-brewed, nitrogen-tapped iced coffee out of an old-timey trike under the moniker Commune + Co., but red tape at the city level bars him from traversing Ybor City peddling his cold brew.

In the late ’90s, when mobile street vendors were getting out of hand, a law was passed barring them from selling their wares up and down Seventh and Eighth avenues. Today, Davis went to Tampa City Council to ask them to consider changing the law.

“While we understand the purpose of the ordinance and the role it played in 1997, we believe vending today is a substantial departure from the vending assumed in the outdated Ybor City regulations," he said. "Not only does mobile vending play a historical role in the rich, cultural heritage of our beloved Ybor City, but it has the potential again to enrich the neighborhood and engage the creative entrepreneurship on which we were founded.”

Alas, he was up against organized opposition from the district's brick-and-mortar merchants, who remember the days when vendors created utter chaos, including a guy who tried to sell cigars from a hospital gurney.

“We've seen the show before," said Eric Schiller, owner of Gaspar's Grotto. "And should we relax these rules, what is actually developing as a very nice neighborhood, more today than even a year or two ago, we're going to have a lot of code enforcement issues, we're going to have a lot of police issues, we're going to have a lot of hard feelings and we may even return to the days where old vending carts are made out of hospital gurneys, shopping carts by homeless people and other things. Clothing racks that look like the garment district in New York City.”

Despite their disagreement, the handful of brick-and-mortar business owners who spoke against changing city code spoke highly of Davis. 

“I would say that we should leave everything alone, and as people come by that have the passion of Joel, they will be dealt with in the district. We'll find ways that work for them," sad Schiller, who has let Davis sell coffee in the courtyard at Gaspar's.

The bulk of the City Council was also a tough crowd for Davis.

“If you mix the people, the traffic and you mix it with individuals selling their wares, you're going to have a problem,” said Councilman Charlie Miranda. “It's not about taking business away from someone else. It's about a safety issue...It's not a state fair. It's a historical district.”

The lone person on council advocating for the city to revisit its street vendor codes was Councilwoman Lisa Montelione. 

“Vendors such as this are what tourists come to Ybor City for,” she said. “They come for that experience. They come for the historic nature of Ybor City. They come for the quirkiness. They come for all of those sights and sounds and things that they can experience.”

She said the extremes opponents mentioned — the gurney, the clothing racks, the shopping carts — are "a far cry from what an actual entrepreneur is doing or trying to do in our city," and noted that several years ago the city's stringent laws on street vending led to the arrest of a saxophonist performing on a sidewalk in Ybor.

“I think that an ordinance that was instituted in 1998 or ’99, 16, maybe 17 years ago, is a bit restrictive and doesn't foster, at least in my opinion, the entrepreneurs of today," Montelione said. “It's rare that we have a business coming to us and asking to be regulated...Perhaps there are ways we can limit it so we don't have a Pandora's box.”

While the council was generally not open to changing the law so that Commune + Co. could operate as intended, it was noted that Davis can pull the trike into businesses like Gaspar's, or the sidewalk outside of a friendly business, and sell coffee there.

Check out Commune + Co.'s Facebook Page to find out where the trike will be serving up yummy iced coffee.


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