Ice Cream Vendors Take Lickin’ on Law
Newsday (New York)
July 11, 1990, Wednesday, NASSAU AND SUFFOLK EDITION
SECTION: NEWS; Pg. 5
The heat of the summer has brought war to Long Beach – Cold War, that is.
The issues are overarching: The safety of children, the survival of the free enterprise system, and, of course, the all-American right to eat ice cream.
At the heart of the battle is a Long Beach ordinance prohibiting food vendors from selling on the streets after 7 p.m., effectively curtailing nighttime sales of ice cream by the pushcarts and pedal bikes that ply their sweets on the streets of this seaside city.
“It is in the best interest of the children,” Long Beach Corporation Counsel Samuel Ungar said this week, arguing that the city passed the measure out of concern that kids might dart into traffic to get to the vendors. “It has nothing to do with politics.”
“In my opinion, it’s just an unfair trade practice,” counters Harley Doles, 35, who owns four pushcarts that sell ice cream and has been selling in town since last summer. “It’s got nothing to do with safety,” he said, arguing that the measure is simply an effort by ice cream stores to put the vendors out of business.
“Selling ice cream on the streets on hot summer nights is an American tradition, and this ordinance is un-American,” says John White, 58, president of the West End Neighborhood Association in Long Beach. “At night, there are so many problems around the bars in town, and the police do nothing. Here’s young people pushing a cart or riding a bicycle and they go after them?”
Motorized ice cream trucks have been banned in Long Beach since 1976, and though the new restrictions actually were passed in May, 1989, the cold war didn’t erupt until this summer because that’s when police began enforcing the nighttime ban, at the instigation of an ice cream store owner.
Doles and the only other licensed ice cream vendor, Jay Bochner (whose business has grown in the last four years from one to seven bicycle carts and is known around town as Mr. Ice Cream), both have been cited by police and face fines of up to $ 250 for each offense. They say they were only cited because local ice cream store owners trailed them and called police.
“It’s sort of an ongoing battle between the store owners and the pushcarts,” said Patricia Toyas, night manager of a Carvel store in Long Beach. “The store owners feel that they pay taxes, have overhead and rely on summers to make most of their money. A good portion of the business is at night. Then here come these vendors with no overhead, taking away business . . . I would like to see pushcarts off the street completely.”
And there’s national precedent for ice cream wars heating up: “Ice cream issues have been known to bring down whole governments,” says Jim Moriarty, a Long Beach resident who works as spokesman for Sen. Norman Levy, (R-Merrick) pointing to a well-publicized incident in California where a celebrity rode to power on the promise he would allow an ice cream store to open. “Remember, Clint Eastwood became mayor of Carmel over an ice cream issue.”
Norman and Robin Kaufman, owners of the local Baskin-Robbins, said they did in fact call Long Beach police when they saw Doles and Bochner out with their carts after 7 p.m. last month. But they insist they only saw them by accident.
“It has nothing to do with interfering with night business,’ said Robin Kaufman. “That is ludicrous. How about blatantly violating the law . . . The law was established to protect children.”
Doles said he and Bochner plan to fight the fines in court on July 20, where they will argue that the city has to prove not only that they were operating their carts but also actually selling ice cream.
“By 7 p.m., most children have finished dinner and have time to get an ice cream from a vendor if they want,” said Long Beach City Council President Kevin Braddish, who defends the ordinance although there were no particular safety problems or incidents that prompted it. “Residents don’t want their children running into the streets looking for the ice cream vendor after 7 and they don’t want to hear the sounds of the bells.”
But White, the civic leader, and a number of residents interviewed said they either weren’t aware of the ordinance or opposed it.
Even Levy, who heads the Senate Transportation Committee and has pressed for stricter legislation of ice cream trucks and carts, said he was somewhat baffled by the ordinance.
“Why is it safe at 6:59 and unsafe at 7:01?” Levy said. “What is the magic of 7 p.m.? If they said 9 or 10 p.m. I could understand but it’s still daylight at 7 p.m. in the summer.”
Originally published in Nassau/Suffolk edition of Newsday, July 11, 1990. Information and research courtesy John Allegro/United Monroe.