Tonight, The High Street Hot Dog Man Could Be Forced to Move

So tonight Morgantown’s City Council votes on an amendment to current ordinances that will influence where our late-night food vendors place their carts. Check page 37 of this pdf. 

You’ve probably heard about this – “the petition to keep the Hot Dog Man on High Street?

Yeah, your concerns have fallen on deaf ears. Now City Council is attempting to push this law through at the end of Finals Week, right when there aren’t any students around to voice their opinions.

Tonight, if City Council passes this amendment to 905.02, no food vendors will be permitted on the sidewalk of the 300 block of High Street between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. This only affects one single vendor, currently  – Joseph Byrd, or “The Birdman.” 

Watch the video below to learn his full story.

EDIT: I just spoke to several knowledgeable sources about this ordinance. There seems to be intense confusion. More than anything people need to understand this is not a personal attack on Birdman – it’s about safety. I’m told because Birdman is retreated into the enclave in front of CoolRidge, he’s not technically on the sidewalk and is exempt from this law. The building he’s in front of is owned by George Papandreas, a local business owner.

However, like I said, there’s a lot of confusion about this. It seems like everyone involved has a different understanding of the law and it’s stipulations, which is a problem in itself. I implore you – please come to this meeting tonight and be civil!

You have one last chance to have your voice heard. Go to the Morgantown City Council Meeting tonight at 7:00pm at 389 Spruce Street. There will be a public hearing on the law, and you will have an opportunity to speak.

Tonight I will be live-tweeting the meeting.

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The Daily Athenaeum’s List of Influential People is All-White and All-Male

So yesterday the Daily Athenaeum, WVU’s official school newspaper, had an article on the front page of their paper  listing the “Top 5 Most Influential Persons of 2013.”

Gee, I wonder who is #1?

Gee, I wonder who is #1?

The list includes outgoing WVU President Jim Clements, Student Body President Ryan Campione, baseball coach Randy Mazey, Athletic Director Oliver Luck, and Mountaineer Mascot John Kimble. As you might be able to tell, the list is very white and very male and very sports-oriented. Rightfully so, people had a problem with this.

It all started when someone from WVU’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion called out the DA’s list on Twitter.

In case you hadn’t noticed already, @paigelav points out the issue.

But there’s so much more than that:

https://twitter.com/ddryan/status/410541126190256128

And the internet has a field day.

https://twitter.com/maryowlice/status/410448756354473984

The user on the Office’s Twitter then offers an alternative list.

Some of the choices are stellar:

Franklin D. Cleckley is a professor at the WVU College of Law who graduated with a Master of Laws from Harvard. He was the only African-American to sit on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals from 1994-1996.

Frances Silva is a senior forward on the WVU’s Women’s Soccer Team. She was the 2013 Big XII Offensive Player of the Year and led the team to victory in the Big XII Championship (the only championship WVU has won this year, so far.)

Brian Jara is a faculty member in the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies. It looks like he’s published some papers this year and presented them at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference in Cincinnati.

– Deb Beazley is a Senior Program Coordinator of Sexual Assault Prevention at the Health Sciences Center. She’s been teaching sexual assault prevention classes since ’98 and coordinates High Expectations, an experiential learning program for students cited for drug or alcohol abuse.

– Elaine McMillion is an award-winning documentary storyteller who graduated from WVU’s P.I. Reed School of Journalism. Her most recent project, an interactive documentary called Hollow, explores the issues of rural Appalachia through the eyes of people living there.

– Narvel Weese is WVU’s Vice President for Administration and Finance. Weese oversees the University’s finances, facilities, human resources – basically everything involving WVU funds. 2013 has been a busy year for him, considering WVU’s recent expansions and growing pains.

– Ruth Kershner oversees Student Affairs for the School of Public Health and teaches in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Her bio says she’s presented at local, state and national conferences on issues of health concerns and violence in the lives of women.

What’s true is this – when it comes to most visible, everybody on the DA’s list is well-known. I’m only familiar with one person on the suggested list, but the beauty of a top-5 list is the chance to recognize less-visible people who have made an impact. Although he’s an influential guy who deserves it, Clements has gotten enough limelight already.

While people are quick to point out the “WASP-y” nature of the DA’s list, think about the circumstances influencing the editors. I assume the list was put together late at night, which is validated by the clear typo in Ryan Campione’s name. Do you make quality work when you’re on a deadline? It’s also not surprising the list is sports-centric, considering the influence of the DA’s sports editors. They must have influence – why else would the paper spend thousands to send reporters to away football games when our own band can’t attend?

These circumstances don’t justify the DA’s monochromatic, single-sex list (nothing will) but they do explain it. Hopefully the feedback will give the editors pause. They’re funded by WVU student fees, an oft-fleeting source of income for school papers, and could make the DA a national-award-winning paper like it used to be. Now they just make national headlines for gaffes.

Edited, 12:16 AM 12/11 – Full disclosure – I worked at the DA for two years. I left in April.

Edited, 12:26 AM 12/11 – Sourced some data about student newspaper budgets after being challenged. Also fixed some typos and style.

Homelessness in Morgantown: Everyone’s Problem

The issue of homelessness in Morgantown, W.Va. is not a secret. If you walk down High Street at anytime of the day or night, you’re likely to be asked if you could spare some change. This is a small piece of the issue that we see before our eyes, but there is much more to the story than this. You may be surprised to know how much the growing homeless population in Morgantown impacts your life.   homeless in morgantown

Photo courtesy of MountaineerNewsService.com

According to WDTV, the homeless population in Morgantown grew by 30 percent just last year. The cold weather and holidays may have some of us thinking of the less fortunate, but it’s not just the people you see on the streets that are in need of help.

Beyond the stereotype:

  • The primary cause of homelessness in Morgantown is lack of affordable housing.
  • The majority of people experiencing homelessness in the community are not visible like the people we see on the streets.
  • The majority of homeless people in the community are working at least part time.
  • Families with children are the fastest growing portion of the homeless population in Morgantown.

According to the Morgantown Homelessness Task Force, “The immediate impact of homelessness is, of course, on those who find themselves without a place to live. However, this problem also affects the quality of life for all in our community. The costs of homelessness are not just borne by those who directly experience homelessness. Everyone pays at least some of the personal, health, social, economic and governmental costs of homelessness because of the demand upon, and cost of, police, health and other public services.”

As the temperature drops each day, you may be asking now more than ever, what is being done to address this growing issue?

  • In September, Senators Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller announced more than $23 million in federal funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for community development, affordable housing, and homelessness prevention and relief in West Virginia.
  • The Homelessness Task Force is a creation of the Morgantown City Council and the Monongalia County Commission.  Its goal is to address homelessness and vagrancy in Morgantown and the surrounding metropolitan area.
  • The City of Morgantown Community Development Office administrates annual grant monies from the federal government with the goal of providing decent housing, a suitable living environment and expanded economic opportunities.
  • Multidisciplinary Unsheltered Homeless Relief Outreach: Morgantown (MUSHROOM) is a medical student outreach to homeless people in Morgantown. Every two weeks, medical students with faculty physicians make rounds on the streets to find the homeless to give medical care and food.
  • Homeless Shelters and clothing places such as Christian Help offer the less fortunate food, shelter and a temporary peace of mind.

The actions being taken and institutions being created are a start, but there is a large misconception among residents in town of what it truly means to be homeless in this area. The sooner we realize that the majority of homeless people are not the ones we see begging for money on High Street, the better. We need to realize that a majority of this population is made up of families and people who are working. If housing is so expensive that a working mother or father can’t afford to put a roof over their child’s head, that’s something that should concern us all.

Why Small Business Saturday is Stupid

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I know I might seem like the last person to rag on something like Small Business Saturday, but I have some issues. Last Saturday Morgantown businesses celebrated the “venerated” holiday, but there’s a number of practical and holistic reasons we should abolish the practice altogether. I appreciate the idea but not the execution.

1. The idea that we should only celebrate small businesses one day a year is ignorant. It puts small business in a realm of commemoration alongside things we should care about but habitually tune out – AIDs research and breast cancer awareness are painful examples. Unfortunately, lots of people are numb to these awareness months, barring huge programs like Relay for Life. Associating small business with charity is a bad way to think about our local economy.
What has “awareness” done for anybody? Being “aware” is a lot different than actually taking action. Thanks to Small Business Saturday, people can be “aware” that small businesses exist and shop there once a year.

2. It’s celebrated on the worst possible day of the year. Sure, I see what they tried to do. It’s logical to try and ride the wave of Black Friday shopping, but there’s still a problem here. We’re making small business an afterthought, a place we go after we binge-shop at major chains. People should be lining up outside of local businesses on Black Friday, not visiting the day after when they’re exhausted and presumably broke. Let’s make it Small Business Black Friday instead.

3. Small Business Saturday promotes the trivialization of small businesses. When American Express started the tradition of recognizing small businesses they had good intentions, but the fact we need this kind of day identifies our failure to recognize how important small business are. Small businesses are the cornerstone of our world. More than half of the working population (like 120 million people) work in small businesses. Small businesses have generated 65 percent of new jobs since ’95. There are 28 million small businesses in the United States.
Those stats are nothing to shake a stick at. Saying we need a “day of commemoration” makes small businesses sound like a small, marginalized part of the business world, which is far from true. If we want to fix our cultural perspective on small businesses we need more than just a day of celebration – we need entire years of recognition. We should all respect our local business owners for what they do and shop locally everyday – it’s the key for making our community vibrant and strong.

Europe’s had this figured out for ages. Their small businesses aren’t just vibrant – they’re sexy. As a result, chains have trouble catching on, and every community has a unique business environment. Let’s get on the bandwagon.

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Cafe de Flore, Paris. Photo by Damien Roue.

What Should We Build on High Street? (Anything Other Than a Starbucks)

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Photo by Daniel A Kersey / flickr

So after a solid fifty years of selling (overpriced?) menswear on High Street, Daniel’s Menswear has moved to their new location out on University Avenue.

The result: A large glass-front piece of real estate is open in prime location for student business. It’s right next to a great parking lot and some of downtown’s most vibrant businesses – which are so because of their location. Rumors say anything from a Starbucks to a dive bar could go in there, which has people talking. Who knows if the place has already been sold – maybe they took a buyout.

We know what people want to see…but what should we really build in there?

Here’s my top ideas.

1. A healthy grocery store. Downtown doesn’t have a powerful all-purpose grocery. Sure there’s Vonson and Mountain People’s Coop, but the nearest Kroger’s is in Evansdale. This is problematic for people who live downtown. Most rent apartments on High Street because they don’t have a car, but they need a car to get to the Kroger on Evansdale. We need something close that offers healthy, cheap food. Sure, there’s the Dollar Tree, but we need a more specialized location. The High Street location is perfect – Ample parking, ample space, and ample demand. Students would eat that up, but I suggest a grocery store with one caveat: it needs to be a locally-owned joint with locally-grown produce. Here’s looking at you, Trader Joe’s.

2. A local pharmacy. Word on the street is there’s a Walgreen’s going in, but that’s just another case of chains imposing on local business. I wish something local would move in, and it would pull a lot of student business as well – 30,000 students are bound to have a lot of prescriptions to fill. It would also be a great place for dorm-bound students to grab some cheap hygienic goods.

3. Anything other than a Starbucks. Like come on. I know everyone needs their coffee fix, but if you think downtown is lacking in coffee places, you’ve obviously never been downtown. A Starbucks would pull business from a lot of other unique (and cheaper) coffee places all over downtown, but we’ve already talked about this. The leading rumor is that Starbucks actually bought the location, but I can’t confirm it.

4. Not another bar. Morgantown already has enough, and new upstarts always have a hard time competing with the established locations. It seems like those bars on Walnut Street always seem to succumb to underage violations, drug busts, etc. I imagine a new bar in the old Daniel’s location would draw the ire of the others. We don’t need a new bar and downtown doesn’t want one – don’t build one.

What do you think we should build on High Street? Post in the comments or tweet at me.

Two Nights, Two Sides of Conflict: High Street’s Food Vendors

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I’ve been hearing a lot of fuss about food vendors on High Street, and I realized I have some involved perspectives on this topic. There’s been a lot of misunderstandings all around, and I hope that this post helps clear the air.

Let me set the scene for you: as one can imagine in a college town, Morgantown has a vibrant night life scene. Every weekend thousands of students pack clubs, bars and restaurants until the wee hours of the morning. Seeing a business opportunity, several individuals have set up mobile food stands to cater to the inebriated bar goers. They have business licenses and are running legal business. To be clear, there are three vendors who consistently appear on the street during weekend evenings: The Morgantown Taco Truck, Joe the Hot Dog Man, and Birdman. The latter two sell hot dogs. Everyone stays in the same place on the street, each within a reasonable distance from one another.

The Morgantown Taco Truck is a newcomer, but Joe has been selling his hotdogs on High Street for sixteen years. Birdman’s been a landmark of downtown for seven years.

In mid-September the Morgantown City Council, under pressure from local brick-and-mortar businesses, passed an ordinance that prevents these vendors from setting up anywhere within the 300 block of High Street – basically, these vendors are banned from High Street’s busiest section. The ban takes effect January 1st.

The ban has since received extreme backlash from the students and the community. A number of arguments have been heard both for and against the ban: Local bar owner George Papandreas is a big proponent of the ban, and WVU students have organized several petitions. The local blogosphere is pretty pissed off. 

The ban still stands unchallenged, however, and the fate of the food vendors hangs in the balance.

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I’ve been curious about this conflict since it began last semester and I’ve paired my interest with assignments in my photography classes. As a result, I’ve become intimately familiar with both the businesses that footed complaints about the vendors and the vendors themselves. Last semester I spent an entire night chronicling Pita Pit’s drunken business rush, and two weekends ago I spent an evening with Joe Byrd, or The Birdman, a vendor who has been selling hotdogs in front of Cool Ridge for seven years.

I wanted to write this post to help clear up some misunderstandings on both sides of the argument. All of the following is what I’ve learned throughout my assignments and from talking directly to the parties involved.

Burke Manning, the owner and operator of Pita Pit who is often credited with being the first to complain about the vendors, is not on a vendetta to kick them off the street. He is not the horrible whiney antagonist many make him out to be. He’s a solid guy who works hard, and he has no problems with the vendor’s current locations. Manning had a single, easily remedied issue: he didn’t appreciate the vendors setting up directly in front of his business, which only occurred a few times. As he said in an article I wrote last March,

“It’s cool that the (food vendors) are mobile, so they aren’t limited to where they can be,” he said. “But I think the city should try to level the playing field a little bit.”

Burke Manning.

Burke Manning.

Since then, the Taco Truck has refrained from parking near Pita Pit, and on many weekends the parking meters on High Street are closed. If you want to know who is really driving the push to move them off the street, check out some intelligent (albeit cynical) investigation by another local.

I imagine one part of the business owner’s complaints are the extreme differences in taxes paid by the vendors and the brick-and-mortars. From afar, I can see how it looks like the vendors are making great money.

I spent an evening with Birdman and I’ve talked in great length with Joe, and I can safely say the following:

The food vendors are NOT making revenue substantial enough to justify kicking them off the street to “level the playing field.” Joe only works two days a week and doesn’t even live in Morgantown. I’m not sure if Birdman has a debit card. If your complaint about the vendors is that they’re sucking away your business, I’d ask you to rethink your argument. These individuals are living hand-to-mouth. Joe’s been around for 16 years, Birdman for 7. If they had been damaging brick-and-mortars’ revenue, the complaint would have come years ago.

That being said,

“Sidewalk safety” is not the true reason for this ban. The original proposal came as a way to prevent drunken students from stumbling into the street, causing a safety hazard. Last spring Chief of Police Ed Preston gave a presentation that supported the idea that these street vendors impede pedestrian traffic, but it’s pretty clear from both Birdman’s and Joe’s stands that they respect the five-foot clearance required by their business permits. The motivation on both sides of the argument is the same: making money.

I would hope that you, as a reader and a supporter of fair business, also observe and recognize the crazy power struggle that’s going on here. Personally, the vendors are idyllic parts of Morgantown tradition. To eliminate them is to remove a part of our history and our small-town culture. Not to mention the whole thing is a pretty heinous case of eliminating specific business competition with the support of an impressionable local government. I’ll tell you what this ban does: it removes the livelihood of less than ten (all lower class) people under the guise of protecting thousands.

If that’s not unfair, I don’t know what is.

All photos are by me.