Attempts to pass an ordinance banning peddlers and solicitors from selling T-shirts, water and other items around Ryan Field on Northwestern football Saturdays failed on Oct. 12 after having been introduced by a 7-2 vote two weeks earlier. Questions about the true intent of the ordinance, its effectiveness in solving alleged problems, and its origin resulted in its being held without a vote by Council.
The proposed ordinance as presently written would ban peddlers and solicitors from offering for sale food, beverages or other merchandise around the NU athletic complex. Although the ordinance as drafted does not contain an eastern boundary for the proposed restricted zone, its intent appears to have been to extend the zone from Green Bay to Ridge and from Lincoln to Isabella.
The ordinance first appeared on the Sept. 29 Administration and Public Works (A & PW) agenda, along with a request that Council suspend its rules and pass it that night without the usual two-week introduction period. It first ran into problems at committee, with Aldermen Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward; Judy Fiske, 1st Ward; and Anne Rainey, 8th Ward, all expressing varying levels of discomfort with it.
Ald. Rainey asked, “Is there a real problem here or not?” Responses to this question varied.
Police Chief Richard Eddington said, “Northwestern’s focus is on the vendors, our focus is on the scalpers.” He then discussed the pedestrian-safety issue said to be caused by peddlers on the sidewalks forcing crowds into the streets, and he touched upon food safety.
A & PW was unconvinced. Efforts to separate out scalping failed, and ultimately the ordinance itself managed only 2 “yea” votes. It proceeded to Council with a negative recommendation from the committee, dashing hopes that Council would suspend the rules and pass the ordinance immediately.
At Council, Ald. Rainey’s initial question persisted. Alderman Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, asked, “To me, the question is, ‘Is this a problem? Should we address this?’” Ald. Fiske continued to voice her reservations, citing the possibility of little girls with lemonade stands being asked to “vacate the premises” and calling the ordinance a “heavy-handed way of dealing with the problem.”
Nevertheless, Council voted by 7-2 to introduce the ordinance with an amendment requiring the Chief of Police to return to Council at the end of the basketball season to report on its effectiveness.
Citizen comment at the Oct. 12 meeting quickly set the tone. Maurice Kelly, saying there has been a City-licensed peddler since 1994, stated what he viewed as the real impetus behind the ordinance: “The real reason is not congestion,” he said. “The real reason is the concessionaire [who] wants to eliminate competition.” Mr. Kelly said the store Let’s Tailgate became the official and exclusive Northwestern licensed vendor several years ago and has been pressing the University for some form of ban ever since.
The owner of Let’s Tailgate, David Gaborek, spoke later. He said that most peddlers don’t live in Evanston while his shop pays all sales tax and, indirectly through a landlord, property tax. “We support the community,” he added, then concluded, “And there is that safety issue.”
Ted and Barbara Borowy, saying they have lived and paid property taxes in Evanston for 42 years, asked Council to continue to allow outside vending. “Vending has supported me and my family for many years,” said Mr. Borowy.
Northwestern’s senior assistant athletic director in charge of sales and marketing spoke in favor of the ordinance, stating that for the University it is a safety issue. But he admitted that Northwestern receives a higher percentage of revenue for goods purchased from Let’s Tailgate than from outside vendors. “They sell our merchandise at our venue … [and we] split the revenue,” he said.
Ald. Wilson said he and other aldermen visited the area on the most recent game-day, Oct. 10. “Having reviewed what’s actually out there,” he said, “it does not seem that what we’ve proposed solves the problem.”
Ald. Fiske took it a step further. “I agree that it doesn’t solve the problem,” she said. “Frankly, I don’t see what the problem is. I don’t see it as a safety issue.” She pointed out that Let’s Tailgate would not be affected, and moved that the ordinance be held. A quick second followed. The ordinance now awaits further Council action.