Taking On A Moveable Feast

LA MESA -- The La Mesa Village Merchants Association held its organizational meeting Thursday night. It elected officers, approved an annual budget and reviewed the various efforts its membership makes to promote the traditional heart of this Jewel of the Hills.

But amid these corporate routines, there was a reminder of how difficult and challenging retail commerce is these days.

The reminder was quietly delivered by one of their own board members -- Laurie MacDonald, who runs a quaint wedding shop on La Mesa Boulevard.

MacDonald told the merchants she was working with a Palm Avenue business owner, the Randall-Lamb engineering firm, which had decided to host a cluster of gourmet food trucks in its spacious parking lot every Friday night from now on.

The food truck phenomenon is growing in San Diego County and underscores the way Internet social media communication is changing routines.

MacDonald, who emphasized she was working independently of the Merchants Association in promoting the food trucks, pointed out that these rolling food peddlers boast e-mail fan lists of up to 10,000 names. They communicate with this coterie by facebook and other web means and the trucks' fans traipse about after the $8 to $10 dollar meals with an almost cult-like zeal.

"It's been great,'' MacDonald said. "We've had people from all over coming to La Mesa -- from Poway, Rancho Bernardo, Escondido.''

And 10 percent of each truck's sales are donated to a local charity each week, MacDonald said. The trucks will be appearing again this Friday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the lot at Palm and Allison.

Still, the local brick and mortar restaurateurs weren't quite as enthusiastic about this Internet-driven incursion into the local economy.

The manager from Tiramisu broke away from his catering of Thursday's Merchants Association meeting to lament to all that he's seen two things since the Friday food truck invasion: Slower Friday nights and some of his regular customers in the food truck lines.

But the Randall-Lamb gambit is occurring on private property and, except for, perhaps, an amplified sound permit, doesn't need approval by the Merchants Association nor the City of La Mesa. New, creative and low-cost competition from an Internet driven phenomenon is not necessarily what traditional merchants need in a tough economy, but having a mini-Oktoberfest every Friday certainly can't hurt La Mesa's overall health.

But the merchants soldiered on Thursday night, making plans to maintain and, perhaps, expand the annual string of events that both draw customers to La Mesa and still serve as the emotional calendar of this small town: Oktoberfest, Antique Street Faire, Christmas in the Village, the Back to the '50s Car Show and a new wine and art event being dreamed up for Spring.

The Merchants Association voted to approve a budget of about $275,000 that should produce a $30,000 surplus. The group also had a formal vote on its board of directors, electing new members Ari Bejar, owner of Cosmos Cafe, and Elena Sonbok Lee, proprietor of the new Art & Light Gallery.

Bejar and Lee will join Rick Bucklew of Don Keating Cars, Richard Felix of Outdoor Market Place, Laura Lothian of Windermere Real Estate SoCal, Laurie MacDonald of Sparrow Bridal, Arlene Moore of Park Estate, John Vigil of First Republic Bank and Deena While of Readers Inc. who were all elected to new terms.


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Tags: , Ari Bejar, Arlene, Art & Light Gallery, Bank, Bridal, Cosmos Cafe, Deena While, Don keating Cars, Elena Sonbok Lee, More…Estate, First, Friday Food Fest, John, La Mesa, La Mesa Village Merchants Association, Laura, Laurie, Lothian, MacDonald, Market, Moore, Outdoor, Park, Place, Readers Inc., Real, Republic, Richard Felix , Rick Bucklew, Sparrow, Tiramisu, Vigil, Windermere, food trucks


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Comment by Scott H. Kidwell on November 12, 2011 at 7:44pm

Good question David.

Randall-Lamb doesn't need a permit or change in their business license to bring in catering trucks and sell to the public from their property? Are the caterers regularly brought in by RL actually like employees that they should pay  a higher business license fee for? Do the catering trucks need a business license? Is Randall-Lamb getting a fee from the caterers or a % share sales? Does RL's insurance company know they are regularly bringing additional pedestrian traffic to their location that is not consistent with the normal operations of an engineering firm? Do they even have the insurance to cover this new found food service business?


Comment by David Smyle on November 4, 2011 at 3:54pm
Maybe it is time for the City to be the sales tax police they say they don't want to be to get some benefit out of they out of area vendors to pay their La Mesa Sales tax like the bricks and mortar vendors do.  We know they don't report sales tax on sales in La Mesa since they are probably from an area with a lower sales tax.  Now that would be a good ordinance to propose!  Mandatory reporting to the City of sales tax reported to the BOE from outside vendors who sell in La Mesa.  Maybe the City would increase revenue from this???

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