Saturday, April 9, 2011

Columbia's Taco War

Upon Neil's recommendation, I grabbed a copy of the current Free Times today.  The cover story is about a "Taco War" going on downtown on Main Street.  Yes, I said Taco War. I won't summarize the entire article, as you can click over and read it yourself.  But, I will give you my two cents' worth!

City Council...are you friggin' kidding me?  

Having served for about 8 years now on the City of Columbia's Board of Zoning Appeals, I have some familiarity with the difficulty of making some of these decisions that affect the good of the City, the people of the City and (in most cases) the emotions of the City.  It's not easy to listen to people's stories, hear their arguments and not get clouded or even confused sometimes.  But, to spend over a year agonizing over a Taco decision?  I'm sorry, but I am dumbfounded at how incredibly stupid that is.

So, here's the way this all breaks down to me.  You may not agree with me; that's certainly ok.  But, I think my logic is pretty compelling.

Taco Stand:  This appeals to any business person who has limited time, is literally running from one meeting to the next and is probably the person who eats at his/her desk when and if they ever actually eat lunch.  This also appeals to people like me who might like to take the kids over to the Capitol to climb trees, feed the pigeons and stroll through the gardens.  It would certainly be preferable to buy a taco from the street vendor rather than drag the Vivver into a sit-down restaurant, deal with ordering, kid's drinks (you have lids, right?) and then getting to scarf down my meal with one hand and one eye on the child the whole time.  And, the cool bar down below street level that serves tacos?  Great, but I'm not taking my child into a subterranean bar for a taco.

Tacqueria Fever:  New restaurant in town?  Bring it on!  Do I believe that an investor is going to spend over $400,000 on renovations to a building just to sell tacos?  Of course not.  I'm sure she's developed an extensive and interesting menu, especially since she's already hired a chef and is already paying that person a salary. So, do I believe that a guy outside on the sidewalk is going to impact her business?  No!  The person I described above doesn't have time for Fever. They are hustling down Main Street and are lucky to grab a bite.  They can't come in, sit down and enjoy the creations of your chef.  See how that works?  You're serving different customers.  Everybody wins.

This is Belinda.
The Whig:  The Whig has nothing to worry about.  They've already got their loyals, created their Taco Tuesday tradition and they are happy to get along with others.  Belinda Gergel was quoted as saying, "We are presented with two very attractive alternatives, but one is already there."  Really Belinda?  Fever isn't "there"; it's a building under renovation for a year and still not open.  So, by Belinda's logic, the Whig was there first, so Council has wasted a flippin' year and the Fever owner's $400K since neither the cart nor the restaurant are ripe for approval because the Whig is already there.  That was a really dumb thing to say.  And, I like Belinda.  But, that was a really dumb thing to say.

The way I see it is this: downtown Columbia needs as much revitalization as it can get.  The fact that there is interest in opening businesses there, whether traditional bricks and mortar or non-traditional vendor carts, is what we want and need.  Healthy competition is just that...healthy.  If this guy's tacos are so good that a restaurant fears the competition, then that restaurant better step up their taco game, or perhaps forget about serving tacos.  

I'd be a much happier City resident if I knew that my City Council was applying themselves to issues like our deteriorating water/sewer pipe system, paving roads that they are responsible for and getting our cops to quit directing baseball traffic and get out there and enforce red lights and fight crime.  But, I guess I'm like John Lennon here, "You may say I'm a dreamer..."

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