If you visit downtown Casper on any given day, you’ll find a city center teeming with activity. Even in the icy winter months, people will be shuffling down the sidewalks, bundled up and on a quest for food, drinks or artisan items that even the Wyoming wind can’t deter. Cars will be stopped at intersections, circling the block on the search for a parking spot. And whether you’re in the mood for a burger, a pizza or an omelet, there’s somewhere for you to choose from.
And that wasn’t always the case.
Part of that vibrant hub of culture and cuisine are the array of food trucks that have opened in the last year. Often, the trucks will park along Second Street or other busy downtown thoroughfares.
Sometimes the trucks are invited by the recently opened Frontier Brewing Company. Much like taprooms in big cities, Frontier encourages guests to bring in outside food and offers a unique space for families and friends to gather.
A few local restaurateurs, however, have taken issue with the trucks using up the already limited parking space in front of their businesses. They argue that the limited parking, made worse by the trucks, deters business from their establishments. That’s easy to understand on one hand. But on the other, open parking spots in our downtown would mean things are slow. Parking challenges are an indicator of a healthier downtown.
We understand that it isn’t always possible to find a parking spot directly in front of a downtown business. But there’s a parking garage within easy walking distance. And food truck patrons need to walk from wherever they parked just the same as patrons of the brick-and-mortar establishments.
But that’s just it; all downtown businesses – those on four wheels or with four walls – must deal with the same parking situation. And competition is an integral part of thriving commerce. So if a business can’t survive amid the challenges of the environment where they’ve chosen to do business, that’s not a problem of parking.
And Frontier and the food trucks have a symbiotic relationship; they help each other. There’s nothing stopping these downtown neighbors from doing the same. Since Frontier doesn’t cook food, nearby restaurants should try to work out a deal with the brewery that will encourage beer-drinkers to bring in food from their kitchens.
These establishments should be working together and not against each other.
The city has worked hard to improve downtown. And thus far they’ve been quite successful. We only stand to gain by encouraging the food trucks’ presence downtown, and by encouraging cooperation between the downtown merchants.
In the summer, nearby David Street Station would be a perfect spot for the trucks to gather. People can grab a bite from the walk-up windows and take their grub to a sunny patch on the plaza lawn.
But during the cold months of winter, food trucks and their partnership with Frontier can offer downtown shoppers a warm bite and a respite from the cold.
The Casper City Council has asked city officials to bring them a policy on mobile food vendors in the next 30 days. We hope that the policy won’t inhibit the value these trucks bring to downtown. Instead, city officials should look to build on the success that the downtown area has recently enjoyed. They’re on the right track.