Not everyone can afford a $10 salad or $8 burger, but Old Town is saturated with high-quality restaurants that don’t exactly appeal to the lunch crowd looking for cheap eats. It’s a trade-off; unique, small businesses comprise the backbone of Old Town, not big box retailers or national fast food chains – a delectable situation.
But the lack of cheap options is sometimes unappetizing. The food trucks thriving in D.C. and Arlington would be a welcome change of pace in Alexandria, but current zoning laws make their existence on our streets illegal and give Old Town the reputation of being dull.
So when two food trucks crossed the bridge into Old Town last week and set up shop in a private parking lot – probably illegally – hopefully the aroma of empanadas and pizza made its way to City Hall. If it did, officials would have realized these mobile lunch spots could be a boon, not an annoyance, for Alexandria.
For a city looking to expand its tax base, mobile food vendors offer a revenue source. Moreover, for a city rightfully concerned with land use, mobile vendors are a non-issue; they can change locales every day, announcing their location via social media.
At least one food truck entrepreneur has gone to Arlington because of Alexandria’s strict laws zoning laws. For the same reason, only one exists: a hot dog vendor at the marina.
As the city urbanizes with more Metro stations and increased density, portable food vendors would add bustle and vivacity, while offering nontraditional options for diners, especially those in a rush. The government often looks to Arlington as an example of how to urbanize (and how not to urbanize). Food trucks would be a small but impactful detail that has seen success next-door in Clarendon and Ballston.
Tourists walking up from the riverfront experience a dearth of activity when passing by Market Square. City Hall is aware of the situation. The food cart program staring at Market Square in April demonstrates a constructive first step. But why allow the vendors only in Old Town? Del Ray and spots near construction sites city-wide could benefit from food carts.
The coming food vendors are meant to create vibrancy along the corridor, according to the city’s planning department, but only on the city’s terms. The program is monitored down to the color of umbrellas allowed.
Participants must meet extremely specific criteria, marginalizing any restaurateurs located outside of Old Town. Only a portion of the available spots was filled, implying a lack of interest among business owners. Imagine the successes of vendors if the city allowed a truly free market.