It took a national spotlight, but Thursday morning on the corner of River and 11th in Holland, 13-year-old Nathan Duszynski is scheduled to open his hot dog cart for business.
Nathan made national headlines last month after the city of Holland shut down his downtown hot dog operation, which he had hoped would help support him and his family.
Last Wednesday, however, the Holland City Council granted Nathan the right to operate in the area through October. A city news release on the decision states, “We have identified part of the city code that grants city council the ability to allow temporary commercial uses in the public right-of-way.”
Holland Mayor Kurt Dykstra says he urged the city council to move quickly so Nathan could have the chance to make money before school starts and the summer outdoor selling season ends. The council’s vote followed publication of a video on Nathan’s story by this reporter. The video received more than 100,000 views online and helped spur further media coverage.
The city council’s decision means that instead of the private parking lot where Nathan first tried to open, he will be on the sidewalk, a mere two feet away.
It may be a small change, but “a new challenge is now ahead for Nathan,” said Ken Vos, the owner of Reliable Sports, where the parking lot is located. Vos has been a mentor to Nathan and is helping him get started again.
“Nathan now has to figure out how many hot dogs he can make fast enough,” Vos said. Given the outpouring of support for Nathan, Vos is telling Nathan to expect big crowds. The two spent Monday obtaining the necessary health permit and buying supplies.
Mayor Dykstra said he sincerely wanted to help Nathan, but was constrained by existing law.
"I can't wave my wand and say law doesn't apply to you — and it's a good thing I can't do that,” he said.
The ordinance prohibiting independent outdoor food vendors in the downtown area is 20 years old, Dykstra said, adding that it may be outdated. The biggest hurdle to changing it will be gaining broad political support, he said, because after 20 years, change is bound to ruffle feathers. Many may defend the ordinance in the belief that it has worked to improve the downtown.
Similar ordinances exist in many cities. They usually are justified as serving public health, safety and order, said Patrick J. Wright, who has followed Nathan's case as director of the nonprofit Mackinac Center Legal Foundation. However, “local officials should make certain their ordinances are serving true public purposes and are not economic protectionism in disguise," Wright said. "Economic liberty benefits the public and enhances individual freedom, particularly for economically disadvantaged people who don't have the capital to start an expensive business."
Holland city officials defended the city’s ordinance on grounds that it protected brick-and-mortar restaurants in the area. One Holland restaurant owner, who asked not to be named, said he supported Nathan and didn’t see his hot dog cart as threat, but asked why it was fair for him to endure the higher taxes and regulation that Nathan will not.
Nathan’s case appears to have given Holland's city leaders an incentive to re-evaluate potentially anti-competitive ordinances.
"I don't think we want policies that stay in place for generations, because things change," said one Holland city council member at the meeting before last Wednesday's vote.
Mayor Dykstra said Holland will also create a task force to study the issue of allowing food truck vendors near the downtown area. He said not all restaurants are against the idea.
"We can find ways to put [outdoor food vendors] in a spot that will enhance the entirety of downtown, and in a spot where they can succeed," he said.
(Editor's note: This story has been revised since its original posting to reflect a change in the projected opening day of Nathan Duszynski's hot dog cart. The opening is now expected Thursday.)
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