When are food trucks a bad thing? 

In my email this week was a question about outside food trucks invading a town of about 2,500 people. It’s a good question, and I’m glad to have a chance to share it with you. 

I am having a hard time in our small town with food trucks wanting to set up for a couple days of the week?  I believe that we should be supporting our local restaurants and not allow these trucks to come in. We currently have 3 restaurants, and they have a hard time keeping their doors open. My take is that they are contributing to our economy in Sales Tax and County Taxes where these food trucks do not bring anything to our community. I understand that our citizens would appreciate something different but do we allow this at the costs of business owners in our town?

If you’ve got trucks coming in, let’s take that as a good sign. That means you have enough customers and life in your town to draw them in. That’s good, right? Other towns are so dead that no one wants to do business there. So that’s a positive sign for this town. 

I agree that none of us like to see out of town businesses cutting into the prosperity of our town and exporting their profits. That doesn’t mean we can’t figure out a way to benefit. 

It will never go back to the way it was. 
Realize that you can’t keep food trucks out. Banning never works. Ban trucks from inside city limits, and they’ll set up right outside. And when a local budding entrepreneur decides to start a food truck of their own, then what do you do? Do you ban him or her, too? Not allowing them isn’t the answer. 

You have to start from here and go forward
If your restaurants are having a hard time staying open, maybe that’s an important sign about quality, cleanliness, or just the freshness or newness of them. It would not be very much different if an interesting new restaurant opened in another building in town and cut into their business. You can’t really choose favorites here. And it may well be time for local restaurants to step up their game, improve their business and be the kind of fresh and interesting place that can compete with food trucks. Heck, maybe they could learn to start their own food truck and expand their business to more locations, to everyone’s benefit.  

Be Idea-Friendly
Next, figure out how to help the trucks actually contribute to your community while they are there.

  • Can they park in a place that actually benefits someone, like near a local store that could use a boost?
  • Can other local businesses or vendors or crafters or artists or budding entrepreneurs open little pop-up store booths next to the trucks, like an instant mini-downtown?
  • Can the trucks support local aspiring chefs or food entrepreneurs or students by giving them training and experience so they can get their own business started?
  • Can the trucks participate in special events when you need them?
  • Can they stay late and support later shopping hours in your downtown?
  • Can they cooperate on a themed event, like a progressive dinner or a safari supper, that includes local restaurants?

Get creative. Ask the truck owners how they can help make your town a better place and give back to the people who are supporting them. 

Those are some ideas. My best advice is this: be open to the idea, and friendly to change. Change is already here, and with some creativity, maybe you can turn it into a catalyst for good things. 

Turning Rural Negatives into Positives 
Join Deb Brown and me for this not-free economic development webinar presented by Eric P. Canada of Blane Canada and Pro Learning Lab. It’s on Tuesday, October 20, 2015 from 1:00 PM to 2:30 PM (CDT). There is no canned presentation. Deb and I will be telling stories and answering questions. Details: Turning Rural Negatives into Positives

Tour of Empty Buildings
The Tour of Empty Buildings Toolkit is opening this weekend for a very limited first run. If you’ve wanted to fill empty buildings in your town, be one of the first in line 

Do you serve more than one small town?
If you work for an agency, organization or group that serves more than one small town, we’d like to make your work easier in 2016. It starts in January, so if you’re interested, learn more about the Membership Program

Keep shaping the future of your small town,