Food Trucks Flourish while Fashion Trucks Idle

It has been nearly a year since our last update on the mobile retail phenomenon in Boston, and it’s clear that the food truck trend has taken off. Hungry Bostonians planning their next lunch break can now take a quick look online at the daily food truck schedule maintained by the City of Boston to determine exactly when and where their favorite food trucks will be serving. As of the date of this entry, there are more than 30 food trucks in Boston serving everything from lobster rolls to kale-filled crepes. A few of the most popular food trucks have even led to traditional brick and mortar locations – Clover now has a fifth restaurant in the works and the owners of the Bon Me trucks recently opened their first restaurant in Kendall Square. But so far, the growth of the food truck phenomenon has not carried over to other types of mobile retail operations. The fashion trucks that seemed to be just around the corner last year are still idling on the sideline.

The comparatively slow start for fashion trucks in Boston is due in large part to a more cumbersome regulatory landscape. While the 2011 Mobile Food Truck Ordinance created special permitting procedures and regulations for food trucks, fashion trucks are still stuck in a permitting no-man’s land. The only permit under which a fashion truck may currently operate is a so-called “hawkers and peddlers license,” which prohibits vending downtown between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Outside of downtown Boston, trucks must move after every sale or every five minutes, whichever is less.

The Boston Redevelopment Authority has demonstrated an interest in fostering the development of more streamlined permitting processes for fashion trucks. During last year’s Boston Fashion Week, six fashion trucks had the chance to test the mobile retail waters on City Hall Plaza under a pilot program developed by the BRA. So far, though, no formal regulatory framework designed specifically for fashion trucks has been created, and Boston is not alone in lacking fashion truck-specific rules – many cities with flourishing food truck scenes, such as New York and San Francisco, lack similar frameworks for fashion trucks. As increasing numbers of mobile retail operations pop up in cities across the U.S., the calls for special permitting procedures like those applicable to food trucks will only get louder.

To be sure, there are a number of fashion trucks in Boston with loyal followings. But for now, trucks like Boston Sports Apparel Company and the Fashion Truck– just to name a few – must rely on special events, festivals, and the ability to rent from private lots. Until permitting processes are developed to enable fashion truck entrepreneurs to operate on a daily basis, fashion trucks will remain less visible than food trucks and are unlikely to make the kind of splash that food trucks have made in Boston in recent years. Once those procedures are in place, fashion trucks around the city are sure to turn on their blinkers and merge onto Boston’s retail highway.

Related topics: Permitting, Retail