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Friday, Jun 22, 2018
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‘Grocery stores on wheels’ need safety standards

Tampa City Council Chairman Charlie Miranda has had his fill of what he calls “pop-up” businesses that establish a presence along the side of a road to sell their wares.

Miranda wants the city to tighten the rules for the portable vegetable stands and other assorted markets that sometimes turn temporary locations into long-term venues.

Some set up shop without a permit and without the government inspections in place to protect consumers.

“It’s a health, safety and welfare issue,” Miranda told city officials recently. Not to mention the unfair competition posed to businesses that play by the rules.

City officials acknowledge the system needs to be fixed, and we encourage them to adopt the suggested changes they offered at the recent city council workshop meeting.

Among those changes is a shortening of permit lengths so that city officials can deny renewals for non-compliant owners, and a streamlining of the process for awarding permits.

The problem is particularly acute along Armenia Avenue in Miranda’s West Tampa district. As the Tribune’s Kevin Wiatrowski reported, the city has moved against the temporary markets when they are discovered. But there are obstacles that frustrate the city’s inspectors.

The businesses can grow from a single roadside tent and some tables to an open-air market with refrigerated tractor-trailers and piles of trash for the city to clean up. Miranda calls them “a grocery store on wheels.”

Cleaning up these rogue businesses dovetails nicely with the city’s efforts this summer to crack down on the owners of abandoned and dilapidated properties. The highly publicized code infractions accumulated by former Tampa Port Authority board chairman Hoe Brown for his rental properties has resulted in a dedicated court system for code violators that will be utilized when dealing with the owners of these “pop-up” markets.

The new court system is expected to speed the judicial process while holding chronic code violators more accountable for the blight they allow to fester in our neighborhoods.

City officials plan to divert the owners of un-permitted roadside markets into the newly formed court system, where justice will be more efficient and more likely to discourage future violations.

Many roadside vendors operate in full compliance of the rules. But the city has an obligation to protect the public from those owners who cut corners.

Miranda is right on target in pushing the city to fix the ways it holds them accountable.

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