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St. Petersburg may consider expanding hours for hotdog vendors

ST. PETERSBURG — A majority of City Council members said they would consider revising a longtime law prohibiting the sale of hotdogs at night in the wake of the Police Department's controversial crackdown of a popular pushcart vendor.

"It will surprise me if we don't change this law," said City Council member Karl Nurse, who represents downtown.

Nurse called the Police Department's decision Friday night to shut down the Dawg House pushcart along the 600 block of Central Avenue "ridiculous" in light of the area's reputation for street violence, underage drinking and drug sales.

"What I don't understand is that this is a tough block, and we have some fairly serious issues on that block that the police are well aware of," he said. "If I was to pick priorities, this wouldn't be one of them."

Other council members said they would consider expanding the allowed hours of operation.

"This ordinance has been around for a few years, and there is nothing wrong with revisiting it," said Council Chairman Jeff Danner.

It's unclear why police decided to enforce the ordinance Friday.

Michael and Joy McGhee were given a citation carrying a $200 fine about 9:45 p.m. The city's pushcart ordinance limits the hours of operation from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Another pushcart vendor was cited an hour later.

The two shut down Friday night are the first of 2009. Only one pushcart vendor was cited in 2008 for late-night food service.

The hotdog brouhaha had its roots in June, when the owners of Durty Nelly's bar asked the McGhees if they would operate the cart outside at night because there are no other late-night bite options nearby.

The family had been losing money, so they jumped at the opportunity to work more hours.

"During the summer, with the heat out here, it slows everything down, including our customer base," said Michael McGhee. "What we make in the winter, we had to work two shifts to make in the summer."

City Hall received 10 messages about the McGhee's citation this week.

"If someone is willing to stand outside at 10 at night politely selling food to intoxicated people who may be driving home, she should be allowed to," Susan Guarino wrote in an e-mail. "I am fully aware of the operating hours set by the city for vendor carts. But, I don't quite understand them."

Not everyone supports the McGhees.

Pushcart operator Alan Laux doesn't want the rules changed.

"I don't want to see 30 vendors out at 2 a.m. in the morning, because something is going to happen," he said. "It's dangerous out there. Handling all that money, and you are outside there in the dark."

Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.

St. Petersburg may consider expanding hours for hotdog vendors 07/28/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 29, 2009 8:17am]
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