Looking to generate money any way it can, cash-strapped Detroit is putting the squeeze on vendors peddling their edibles at the city’s many annual festivals.
Permit fees have jumped from $73 to $247. The additional charge only affects food vendors, who purchase the licenses from the city’s Department of Health and Wellness.
That charge is in addition to a $115 temporary business permit from the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs — a practice that began about five years ago — bringing the cost of doing business to about $360 per vendor at every city festival.
It’s too early to say what kind of effect the increased costs will have on the city’s festivals.
Comerica TasteFest director Randall Fogelman says the higher fees aren’t going to hurt his festival. On top of the city fees, vendors at TasteFest pay $950 for a booth, plus a percentage of profits at the close of the festival.
"We’re established," Fogelman says. "It’s going to hurt the newbies and the one-day festivals."
Dally in the Alley, an annual food, music and arts festival held in the Cass Corridor around Second Avenue and West Forest Street, is among those one-day events. Food vendor chairman Naveed Syed, owner of the Wayne State-area restaurant American Masala and also a TasteFest vendor, says it’s easier to justify the increased cost when you’re paying for a longer festival.
Nonetheless, Syed doesn’t think the higher fees will keep vendors away from Dally in the Alley — but that’s not to say it won’t have an impact on the festival.
"It might increase the prices of the food, as vendors try to break even," Syed says.
This year, festival chairwoman Connie Mangilin says, Dally in the Alley is absorbing part of the increased permit costs.
"We’re not making as much as we did last year, but we think it’s OK," Mangilin says. Dally in the Alley, like Festival of the Arts, is funded each year by the previous year’s profits.
The festival’s organizers are asking vendors to make separate checks to Dally in the Alley and to the city, to emphasize that it’s not the festival’s costs that have increased.
Festival of the Arts was surprised by the increase, says festival coordinator Tracy Green. The two-and-a-half-day festival, held last weekend in Detroit’s Cultural Center, didn’t get the word in time.
"We had already sent our packets out to food vendors," Green says.
Consequently, Green says, the festival honored the original prices and ponied up the difference, a move that cost the $1.1 million festival $3,000.
While Fogelman considers the Consumer Affairs license "a waste of money," he doesn’t mind the increase in Health Department fees. He just wishes the city had increased prices incrementally instead of making the big leap all at once.
"Do I feel they held at $73 for too long, when they could have been inching up slowly? Yes," Fogelman says. "To go from $73 to $250 is kind of a shock."
Fogelman also says fees should be structured to account for a festival’s size, duration and profitability.
"As someone who wants to encourage festivals citywide, I think the fees should be more progressive," Fogelman says.
City officials didn’t return phone calls seeking information about the new fees.News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at [email protected] or