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BEPPLE: Food trucks key to variety and vibrancy in downtown Kamloops

Image Credit: Compilation/Jennifer Stahn
May 08, 2015 - 9:57 AM

It doesn't look like Kamloops will become a mecca for food truck cuisine anytime soon. That's how it appears based on the latest policies passed by Kamloops city council. 

Vancouver has food truck culture. It's downtown is filled with trucks. There are regular truck festivals where large numbers of trucks congregate along with music, and sometimes beer gardens. 

The latest Kamloops food truck policy allows only one food truck on downtown streets at a time. 

Food truck culture doesn't happen when people say ‘let's head downtown to check out the food truck.’  I doubt very much that is what people say for one lone food truck.

Food truck or street food culture happens when there are enough trucks in an area to make it worth the trip. One truck in the entire downtown won't do that at all. 

One of the joys of food truck culture is variety, both in types of food truck and different, unusual foods. Trucks can change locations, so there can be different choices every day. As well, trucks can often create unique items not suited to a larger restaurant which needs to appeal to a wider audience. 

The new policy does allow food trucks in industrial areas. Likely because there are few restaurants in those areas. I can't remember the last time I went to an industrial area with friends to hang out.  Food trucks in industrial areas do not create food truck culture. Food trucks in the downtown do. 

One reason the Kamloops Central Business Improvement Association cited for supporting the policy was traditional restaurants paying taxes. They ignore that the truck owners typically have another location for food prep and so pay taxes too. 

I also don't buy the argument that food trucks take business away from other restaurants. More food choices draw more people. That's why the existing restaurants downtown chose to be next to other restaurants. People looking for a sit down meal won't choose to eat standing in the street. 

Food truck culture is about increasing street vibrancy and giving people more reasons to come downtown. Not everyone going to downtown would eat at the trucks, but the vibrancy would draw others down.

People want street vibrancy. When we sit at restaurant patios it is as much to people watch as it is for the sunshine. Street vibrancy is one reason we go downtown instead of heading for a strip mall.

Drawing people downtown for street food would attract others who just want to be where the action is. 

The downtown business association has done a lot to create vibrancy. From the Santa Claus parade to Hot Nites in the City, the association creates events which draw people to the downtown by having more people out on the streets. I'm surprised they don't see food trucks the same way. 

Nobody likes to hang out in a downtown which you can bowl in the streets. That's why street vibrancy is so important. It's too bad food trucks won't be part of adding that to downtown Kamloops. 

In the end, it's the city council, not the business association, which decides food truck policy. I'm hoping the council reconsiders their policy. It would make the downtown an even better place to be. 

— Nancy Bepple is a recovering politician and local news junkie. She expects she will never recover from her love of the banjo.

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