Continued Growth of the Mobile Retail Truck Phenomenon: From Food Trucks to Fashion Trucks

The proliferation of gourmet food trucks on city streets has become a national phenomenon. An observer must look no further than the City of Boston which, as of the date of this entry, legally permits food trucks to operate in 20 locations, including high pedestrian traffic areas such as Dewey Square and Copley Square. The success of some food trucks has even led to the opening of brick and mortar locations (for example, Clover Food Lab has grown to nine trucks and two restaurants and Bon Me Truck has a “restaurant in the works”). Advocates assert that the mobile food industry contributes to the vibrancy of a city’s economy and creates an opportunity for small businesses to increase visibility while also eliminating overhead and operating costs such as rent and capital expenses.

However, a major logistical impediment for the mobile food service industry in many municipalities is the lack of formal permitting procedure. Boston is a prime example of a city in which the viability and growth of the mobile food service industry faced such obstacles. Up until recently, food trucks were forced to operate under a hawkers and peddlers license, which does not permit an owner to operate on most city streets and requires mobile retail operations to move at least 200 feet every five minutes.

In order to streamline administrative processes, the City of Boston passed the Mobile Food Truck Ordinance in 2011, which created a formal application process for food trucks to obtain a food truck permit though the Public Works Department. Although operators have criticized flaws in the regulations and advocated for increased parking spaces in more profitable locations and greater ability to “cluster”, the Ordinance has greatly enhanced when and where food trucks may legally operate.

And, now, a new class of specialty trucks is following the food truck craze: the mobile retail clothing truck, or the fashion truck. However, fashion trucks now face the same impediments food trucks once faced due to the lack of a formal permitting procedure. Operation under a hawkers and peddlers license is an option, but just as food trucks once experienced, when and where fashion trucks may operate is limited.

As with food trucks previously, now the City is in the process of determining permitting procedures for fashion trucks. Although regulations have not yet been passed, the Boston Redevelopment Authority has initiated a pilot program for six fashion trucks to operate in City Hall Plaza during the majority of the months of October and November. While it remains to be seen whether fashion trucks will lead to the same level of popularity and sustainability as its predecessor, the regulations currently in process are evidence of a major metropolitan city embracing the continued growth of the mobile retail truck phenomenon.

Related topics: Permitting