In the past year, Haines has seen a rise in mobile businesses – like food trucks and pop-up stores. A committee formed over the summer to make recommendations about how these businesses should be integrated into borough code. This week the mobile commercial business committee this week voted in favor of a less restrictive approach.
The committee’s conclusion was simple: treat businesses the same, whether they operate out of a trailer or a building on Main Street. They voted three to one to recommend mobile business owners follow existing code for operating a business. That means being licensed by both the borough and the state.
Chamber of Commerce President Kyle Gray was the only committee member opposed. He came into the meeting with a suggestion from the chamber. That is, mobile businesses be required to pay some sort of additional fee to operate.
“An in-lieu-of property tax was talked about a lot,” said Gray. “That there was a certain value placed on a mobile structure having a 1 percent or even just a flat, like $250 a year or something of the sorts for mobile commercial structures.”
He said the chamber didn’t think a nominal fee would be too demanding, and it would help prevent mobile businesses from gaining an unfair advantage.
“We want to see more business,” said Gray. “We want to see more businesses start up. We want to make it easy for them, and mobile structures are an easy way to get in. But we also want to see that the competition level is fair and that there isn’t an unfair competitive advantage that a mobile structure might have versus a brick-and-mortar type store.”
Haines resident and business owner Doug Olerud said, in most circumstances, he doesn’t see mobile businesses threatening existing stores.
“Do people really think that somebody in a mobile trailer is competing with a brick-and-mortar?” asked Olerud. “It seems like a totally different experience and a totally different business model then a brick-and-mortar.”
Several committee members were uncomfortable with the idea of placing an extra burden on mobile proprietors. Here’s Diana Lapham.
“The people that are in these trailers are basically trying to get a foothold into a more permanent business,” said Lapham. “They cannot afford at this point in time to get out there and put money that they don’t have into something.”
Nelle Jurgeleit-Greene and Lori Smith agreed, they don’t want to see an additional cost.
“I am at this point having difficulty accepting another fee for them,” said Jurgeleit-Greene. “I think when we left the last time we were leaning toward well, they’re a business they have to follow all the local business criteria that needs to be met. I’m uncomfortable with yet another fee.”
“I’m a little uncomfortable as well,” said Smith. “If this is truly someone that is just starting up and just testing the climate before they look around town and come and get a loan from you to purchase a building, and how can we make it fair.
Lapham said the committee should be less restrictive now, since this group’s recommendation is only the first step in integrating mobile businesses into borough code.
“They should not be held any differently than anybody else right now, because when the time comes they will be,” said Lapham.
And, she said these businesses could add a positive influence on the community.
“These things are fun,” said Lapham. “They are a lot of fun – in Juneau downtown in the summertime it’s an eating mecca.”
The committee’s recommendation did not include keeping a physical distance between mobile and brick-and-mortar businesses, something they discussed at previous meetings. Their recommendation will now go to the assembly for review.