More businesses may find home in Waterfront Park in Sister Bay next summer, as the village considers allowing transient vendors to set up shop at Waterfront Park.
Over the last year, interested vendors have approached the village with proposals for mobile businesses like face painting, Segway tours and food carts.
“Because they were commercial ventures and had to take place in the parks, the question became what do we do and what can we do within the parks, and what should we do,” Dave Lienau, chairperson of the village Parks, Property and Streets Committee, said at a meeting on Jan. 9.
On Dec. 11, the Sister Bay Village Board voted to allow village administrator Robert Kufrin to invite prospective business owners to pitch their ideas. Proposals will be evaluated on their merit, Kufrin said, but the committee will give priority to village property owners.
Each business proposal will have to go through the village board.
“At this point in time, the approach has simply been ‘let’s see what somebody is even interested in doing,’” Lienau said. “It doesn’t mean we’re interested.”
Village business owners are split on whether or not to support the move. Although they discussed the issue, the Sister Bay Advancement Association (SBAA) didn’t vote on it because opinions were so varied.
“The board was split 50-50 and the members had mixed feelings as well,” said Paige Funkhouser, SBAA coordinator.
Most agreed that service-based businesses like bike rentals or Segway tours would help keep beachgoers in Sister Bay, but were unsure about allowing mobile food vendors to set up in the park.
“I guess I’m in support of it, but being a restaurant manager I wonder if it will negatively affect our business,” said James Larsen of Husby’s. “I think any way we can get people to stop bringing their own stuff and spend some money in the community is great.”
Not everyone’s on board. Kufrin received a letter from future Sister Bay business owners opposed to allowing mobile restaurants in Waterfront Park because it would hurt their nearby business, which they plan to open toward the beach.
Lars Johnson, of Al Johnson’s, disagrees. He said the competition would be good for all businesses in the village, and having more options would keep people and their wallets in Sister Bay.
Johnson and Larsen both voiced concerns over health inspection of mobile restaurants.
“The mobile kitchens are very well equipped, they’re very expensive, and they’re coming back,” Johnson said at the Parks Committee meeting on Jan. 9. “I remember in the ‘70s they would go from Gibraltar High School to Sturgeon Bay to Sevastopol to the shipyards and were all over the place… I think that we’ve reached a point now that we may see an interest in that again.”
Jennifer Fitzgerald, who also attended the meeting, proves his point. She’s worked as a chef for 13 years and is ready to open her own business, but doesn’t have the money to purchase property. Instead, she wants to buy a food truck.
“The overhead costs of a brick and mortar establishment versus that of a mobile food restaurant are quite different,” Fitzgerald said in an email. “As a new business owner I feel the mobile move is more attainable.”
Fitzgerald said she wants to buy a property eventually. She hasn’t decided if she will submit a proposal to the village.
The committee’s intention isn’t to create competition or hurt existing businesses, said village trustee John Clove.
“It’s a matter of what can we do to improve our $12 million investment in the waterfront,” Clove said. “How do we get people to come here and stay here?”