Roving ice-cream trucks are illegal in Seattle, but that may change
Cities throughout the region handle neighborhood ice-cream trucks differently as Seattle works toward creating a permit.
Seattle Times business reporters
Ice cream in the summer often comes with a side of "Greensleeves" or some other relentlessly cheerful tune blasting from a speaker atop the vehicle with the goodies.
Popular and pervasive as they are, ice-cream trucks are illegal in Seattle because there is no permit for selling food from the road.
Taco trucks, hot-dog stands and even certain ice-cream trucks such as Molly Moon's have permits for vending from sidewalks, vacant lots and street fairs.
But tooling around looking for customers is a no-no.
"We're not really enforcing it, but it's not legal to vend without a permit, so technically it's illegal," said Gary Johnson, in the city's Department of Planning and Development.
He is working on a wide-ranging plan to enhance street food availability in Seattle, including bringing ice-cream trucks into the fold. (As with all businesses in Seattle, they must have a license, but the local health department doesn't regulate prepackaged ice-cream novelties.)
Some cities are laid-back about their wandering purveyors of Bomb Pops and strawberry-shortcake bars.
"It's loosey-goosey to some extent," said Liz Stead, urban-design planning manager for the Development Services Department in Bellevue, which also lacks an ice-cream- truck permit. "We don't consider them illegal. We just haven't regulated them."
Other places take the trucks — which are sometimes Jeeps, vans or jalopies — quite seriously.
In Tacoma, they are grouped with door-to-door solicitors, whose license requires a photograph, fingerprint and background check. If anything questionable turns up on the background check, the police decide whether to approve the license, said Jodie Trueblood, manager of the tax and license division in Tacoma's Finance Department.
Tacoma charges $50 a month or $180 a year for the license, and has seven ice-cream trucks.
Bothell requires a peddler's license, including a fingerprint, a passport-sized photo and a doctor's note saying the vendor has no communicable diseases. It costs $101 initially, then $15 a year to renew.
There are maybe two ice-cream trucks in Bothell, said Nancy Green in the city's Community Development Department.
No price has been set for the soon-to-be-proposed permit in Seattle, Johnson said. "We don't want the number to be so high that it's a disincentive."
The fee is the biggest concern for Mark Davison, who owns two ice-cream Jeeps that mostly cruise Kirkland and Bellevue but make it to Seattle every couple weeks.
"Our profit is so small, and our season so short that if they add stuff like that, it could really kill us," he said. "If it's too expensive, I won't be coming into Seattle to do regular sales, but only catering and office or company ice-cream breaks."
Davison expects trucks without city business licenses now to ignore any future permit requirement.
Seattle's permit would come from the Department of Transportation and ban sales in the greater downtown area, unless they get permits for specially assigned parking zones that the city proposes creating for all types of street food.
Several ice-cream vendors said they hope a new permit will stanch the stream of competitors that has grown during the recession.
Ed Cunningham, who owns three ice-cream trucks in Tacoma, figures he has seen 40 percent more trucks in the area this year and was shocked to hear that Seattle does not require a permit.
"I guess that's why there are so many free riders," he said.
— Melissa AllisonTidbits
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Retail Report appears Fridays. Amy Martinez covers goods, services and online retail. She can be reached at 206-464-2923 or email@example.com. Melissa Allison covers the food and beverage industry. She can be reached at 206-464-3312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Retail Report is a look at the trends, issues and people who makeup the dynamic and versatile retail sector throughout the Puget Sound region. Every Friday with Melissa Allison and Amy Martinez. Send tips or comments to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.