BROOKSVILLE — On Tuesday, the first day at her new location, Christina Tucci didn't think it was going to work. After dodging four hours of downpours, she huddled beneath the umbrella on her hot dog cart, waiting for customers.
By normal standards, it wasn't a great day for the 60-year-old woman who has been hawking wieners on Hernando County roadsides since 1994. She earned just $20, barely a third of what she was earning two years ago.
But since relocating her cart in the parking lot of the My Place 2 tavern on busy Cortez Boulevard, west of Brooksville, Tucci has seen a glimmer of hope. Some of her old customers have already started noticing her, and that makes her happy.
"I had a guy come by and buy five hot dogs today," she said excitedly Wednesday. "He said he's going to stop again later this week."
For years, Tucci and her longtime partner, Murray Polsky, ran the mobile lunch stand at the corner of a small beverage store not far from her current location. But shortly after Polsky's death last year, the owner of the property abruptly asked her to leave.
Since then, things haven't been going her way.
Tucci tried setting up at locations along U.S. 98 inside the Brooksville city limits. She found the experience frustrating. One property owner forced her to buy a $1 million liability insurance policy, then wanted to charge her $250 a month for rent. She also had run-ins with the city's code enforcement division, which refused to allow her to set up her wagon in the location she wanted.
"It was making me sick," said Tucci, who suffers from numerous health issues. "I wasn't making any money, and I was mad all the time."
Two weeks ago, Tucci finally found the miracle she was looking for. Strangers who heard of her plight stepped forward with the money to buy a $100 temporary county vending license. Then, My Place 2 owners Buddy and Linda Newman offered her free space in front their establishment to park her hot dog wagon.
Tucci can stay as long as she wants, Buddy Newman said.
"Everybody deserves a fair shot, and she hasn't been getting that," Newman said. "The way I see it, we can help each other. She can sell hot dogs and maybe send us some customers as well."
Tucci said she likes the idea.
"I'm happy to help them out all I can," she said as she served a chili dog to a truck driver. "That's what people are supposed to do, isn't it?"
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or [email protected]