For the last few months or so, I have been eating lunch on the Ave instead of bringing food from home. The Ave is a long street two blocks over from the University of Washington campus that has a lot of restaurants on it. Many of them are quite good.
Eating on the Ave regularly led me to think about how competitive the lunch food market on the Ave is. There are a lot of restaurants, so it is pretty competitive, but it could probably more competitive. This led me wonder why Seattle is almost devoid of street vendors (there are a few downtown). This article explains it
Back in the 1970s, our fair city decided “clean streets” meant enforcing the stiffest laws in the country regulating street food vendors.
I recently called the health department to inquire about opening a French-fry cart, the importance of which became apparent to me as a teenager in Amsterdam. The hardened municipal worker on the other end of the phone informed me that if I didn’t see it on the streets, it could not be done. When I decried Seattle’s embarrassing lack of street food variety, she suggested I “move to France, where their food poisoning rate is consequently higher.”
It is unfortunate that selling food on the streets is so heavily regulated. Allowing street vendors should reduce the price of lunch foods by reducing their operating costs. Street vendors have lower operating costs since they do not have to rent expensive storefront space, although they do have to rent or buy licenses. Allowing street vendors would also have the added benefit of reducing the number of storefront restaurants, which would free up storefront space for other things. I would like to see Seattle auction off tradeable street vendor licenses. Auctioned permits would also allow easy to vendor regulation since their licenses could be revoked.