They scream for ice cream in Seaside Park: Trying to end the food truck ban
For years, seeing ice cream trucks parked near the beach was a common sight for visitors to Seaside Park during the warmer months. The familiar view has been missing from the Jersey shore town since 2010 as a result of a municipal ban. But some residents are hoping to change that.
"Ice cream trucks and other food vendors were a part of Seaside Park for many decades," said Peter Hamouroudis, who used to operate an ice cream truck near the beach. "The current ordinance blocks mobile vendors from accessing the beach."
The ordinance prohibits the sale of merchandise from any vehicle along the entire stretch of Ocean Avenue, which runs parallel to the boardwalk, as well as within 25 feet of Ocean Avenue on any street it intersects or within 50 feet of any stop signs on streets that intersect with the main thoroughfare.
Hamoroudis, owner of the Cool Concessions ice cream truck, said the vendors that used to sell ice cream in the area were part of the "iconic history, culture and tradition" of Seaside Park. In an effort to bring back that tradition, he gathered nearly 340 signatures in an online petition urging the mayor and council to revise the ordinance.
(Update: A new petition by Hamoroudis was posted Monday as well)
Seaside Park Mayor Robert Matthies said he wasn't in office when the ordinance was amended but the change may have been the result of residents' concerns.
"I didn't return to office until 2012, so I wasn't involved in the proceedings leading up to it. I do recall, though, being told that citizen taxpayers were unhappy with the manner in which some vendors conducted their business operation. I believe they were speaking from a vehicle safety standpoint," Matthies said.
According to Hamouroudis, there were 13 parking spaces designated for mobile vendors in 2007. Vendors could walk onto the beach, ring a bell to get the attention of sunbathers and then sell from their trucks. In that same year, he claims, 17 permits were given out, so there were more vending trucks than parking spaces.
“It was an over-saturation of trucks. So it added to the frustration of homeowners and people in the town," Hamouroudis said.
Because of this, many trucks didn't generate as much profit as they had hoped and some didn't return, he said. At the end of the 2009 season, Hamouroudis said the vendors were told that the borough wanted to stop allowing trucks to park near the beach and instead have pushcarts along boardwalk "to get a nostalgic feel." He said they operated the pushcarts for a year, but it was "very difficult."
In 2010, the Borough Council officially amended the borough code to prohibit vendors from parking on Ocean Avenue. The following year, the borough hired a single vendor — Memory Lance concessions — to sell concessions such as ice cream on the beach, according to Hamouroudis.
Then Superstorm Sandy hit in 2012, devastating the Jersey Shore and causing extensive damage to the shore's beaches and boardwalks, including the concession stand on Seaside Park's beach. Currently, Seaside Park itself sells ice cream near beach entrances, Mayor Matthies said.
Borough Administrator Robert Martucci did not respond to messages and emails seeking comment on the issue.
Hamouroudis said he'd like to see the borough draft an ordinance amendment to once again allow ice cream and vendor trucks on Ocean Avenue. He said he's reached out to borough officials and offered assistance but hasn't gotten a response.
“I feel like the town could do a test run where they bid out two or three positions for ice cream vendors and maybe a food vendor," he said. "Ice cream trucks along the shore are iconic. There’s really nothing like it and it’s just a shame. Just to be dismissed and written off by the township is sad and it’s really un-American."
Many of the supporters who signed the online petition agree with Hamouroudis and say it's part of the Jersey shore culture.
"Vending trucks show that we welcome visitors (most of whom are from our home state) to our lovely beaches! The beaches may not be free, but they should certainly be accessible and welcoming to all who wish to visit," Beth McCarthy commented on the petition site.
"Please! They were great and are sorely missed. Please bring them back throughout the town," Tina Montone commented.
An anonymous commenter said it's important to "support people who are willing to work."
"I rent for the summer on central," another supporter said. "We spend all day at the beach, me and all the kids. It's such a treat to be able to walk to the truck and get an ice cream or a soda."
Others claim the prohibition of vendor trucks on Ocean Avenue is detrimental to small businesses.
"A proper mobile vending policy will improve the experience of beach patrons and improve the desirability of the town by providing a service that people celebrate as a wonderful aspect of summers on the Jersey Shore," Darren Monroe said after signing the online petition.
Matthies told New Jersey 101.5 that officials are always open to considering new proposals.
"The governing body is always interested in public opinion and welcomes suggestions concerning the operation of the borough," Matthies said. "At the present time, nothing has been presented (by any member) requesting an ordinance change."
Toniann Antonelli is a social content producer for NJ 101.5. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.