Tag Archives: ice cream guy

Defending the Failboat

13 Jun

There was a post at Buffalo Rising that was supposed to act as a sort of counterpoint to the problems that James the Icecreamcycle Dude was experiencing with respect to the myriad pricey permits he has to obtain in order to sell ice cream from a bicycle on public streets and sidewalks.

Buffalo is a city of a relatively large number of individuals engaged in the day-to-day struggle to make a living while civilly co-inhabiting a limited and defined physical space. The cost of this civilization, and democracy for that matter, is a system of rules and regulations that, regrettably, govern all of our lives.

So, the ice cream dude can suck it, because we have rules, dammit.

I’m not sure who Paul Morgan is, but the “counterpoint” displays a couple of things. Number one, “counterpoints” in the interests of “balance” are plain silly. There is no “counterpoint” to the problems that James has been experiencing unless you’re involved in permits from the city, Buffalo Place, or Thursday at the Square.

Mr. Morgan condescends to James and the whole thing reeks of sour grapes. There is no parallel to James selling ice cream on a city street and Mr. Morgan selling accessories from a cart at the mall. The mall is private property. The street is public property. The mall sustains itself through tenant rents. The streets are sustained by tax dollars. Mr. Morgan goes on to say that he sells his wares in the lobbies of downtown office buildings. Again, that’s private property. He complains that he has to add each building as an “additional insured” on his insurance policy. James probably doesn’t, since his business is mobile and takes place on public property. Hopefully, he has his own insurance. That’s a cost of doing business and that’s not what James is complaining about.

Yes indeed, this is America, and James should be able to offer competition to Ben & Jerry’s, or Baskin Robbins, but the cost of doing so, in a capitalist society, is the cost of rent, permits, and licenses. If James were to invest the staggering amount required to rent a store front, establish a client base, advertise, insure, and what have you, only to have Billy Bob ride up on a bike to drastically undercut his overhead while stealing his customers, would he find that ‘fair’? Similarly, Buffalo event planners take huge risks, invest vast sums, and are entitled to a modicum of control over event perimeters. They are similarly entitled to reasonably charge a fee to venders to offsets production costs to stage these popular FREE events, enjoyed by so many.

By the same token, anyone can buy a refrigerated bike system and compete with James. This would be an even remotely relevant comment if there was a Ben & Jerry’s or Baskin Robbins located anywhere in the general vicinity of Buffalo’s central business district.

There are three Baskin Robbinses near Buffalo. One is in Williamsville, one is on Sheridan, and one is near West Seneca.


The only Ben & Jerry’s shop in WNY is located in the outlet mall in the Town of Niagara:


Most normal people go to a concert in a controlled venue (like Darien Lake, for instance) and dislike the exorbitantly high prices charged there ($5 for a Dasani) by the on-site concessionaire. Morgan defends a 1000% markup? Good for him. Frankly, yeah – James should be allowed to pedal his bike and peddle his wares wherever he has, so long as he is doing so on public property. If Mr. Morgan wanted to sell schmattes and tchotckes from a mobile cart on the public street, I’m sure he’d be able to do so.

Finally, Mr. Morgan changes the subject altogether and brings up the Livery Building. This is the conclusion of Morgan’s piece, and it’s just unnecessarily hostile:

Unlike the warm, friendly, and very public response James received from Mayor Brown, we were fought by the city every step of the way to secure some remains of the Livery, and continue to fight for a sensible re-use of the property that is appropriate to our community. It adds insult to injury to see the Mayor’s grab for the spotlight in this situation, and rush to remediate a problem that inconveniences three guys on bikes- who by all appearances, did not do any due diligent research on city permits before they creamed up their refrigerated cycles.

Why is it James’ fault that Mayor Brown ignored you and the Livery? Why the hostility to James? Did he somehow prevent the Mayor from paying attention to the Livery Building through his devious ice cream distraction? How exactly does one do due diligence on city permits when one has to go through three entities to do it right? James’ problems are emblematic about how difficult it is to do business in this city for everybody. Morgan defends the status quo and blames James for the fact that in Buffalo you have to go through more than one entity to get a permit, while in most reasonably run cities, you only need one.

What this city and country need is sustained and committed work on the part of all citizens to be more involved in our democratic process, and the running of our governments. I applaud James for making his plight public, and sharing with us the difficulties in running a small business start up in Buffalo. What I resent is the special treatment certain sympathetic causes receive in the media, and from city hall, out of all proportion to the relative number of individuals effected, or the common good addressed.

Why pretend that you applaud James? You haven’t applauded him once – you mocked his business, you questioned his due diligence, and you pretty much whined about how Mayor Brown paid attention to James, but not to you. Quite frankly, an argument can be made that business development and ease of permitting are a thousand times more important to sustaining the city than worrying about every crumbling building that comes down the pike and gets demolished by neglect.

I am aware that our poor beleaguered Livery had just such appeal. What most readers may be unaware of perhaps, is that those same citizens who worked to save the Livery, work year in and year out, fighting crime, blight, street drugs, and problem landlords through community clean ups, community gardens, block clubs, and as diligent watchdogs in Buffalo housing courts. A very few individuals do the heavy lifting for an entire community, and every day we need more help, more press, and more sympathetic support from elected officials.

The path to sympathetic support from electeds does not pass through “hurling shit at the ice cream vendor”.

A mentality like this – the status quo above all – helps make Buffalo the GM of cities. Here’s the coda of Mr. Morgan’s “applause”:

So, by all means, buy an ice cream cone from these poor guys – before they peddle to North Carolina in search of the great American Dreamcycle….just make sure you enjoy it on the way to a public planning meeting, block club, or charitable community volunteer opportunity. Educate yourselves on our rotten and failing school system and political machines, and get involved. Two or three hours a week could mean the difference between the Buffalo of our dreams, and the depressing status quo.

It’s nice that Mayor Brown is going to meet with James, and it’s the least he can do after members of his administration literally threw good money after bad with respect to One Sunset. That, Mr. Morgan doesn’t seem to have any problem with though. His feelings are hurt because the Mayor didn’t make a stink about the Livery Building.

I don’t know why Mr. Morgan would criticize the broken school system or political machines, because they are very close cousins to “onerous and ridiculously burdensome, multiple expensive permits to sell items from a mobile cart on a public street”.

The Buffalo Ruse’s Guide to Vendor Permitting in Buffalo

9 Jun

This is exactly right:

1. Download a permit application online using the “Easy Permit” link found on the City of Buffalo’s CityServices webpage.

2. Complete the application in Braille and English (use blue or black ink).

3. Collect the necessary supplemental forms from “Steve” who can usually be found in City Hall before 11 am between the 6th and 8th floors. Look for him outside of the basement-level women’s bathroom after 1 pm.

4. If you are selling perishable items, please attach to your Easy Permit application the following items: your original birth certificate (no copies), your original NYS enhanced driver’s license, a copy of your library card. Please note that none of these documents will be returned to you.

5. If you will be using a cart to sell items, please include an official, notarized transcript showing your elementary school report card grades and a police report estimating that your blood-alcohol-content will fall within the legal limit on the date you plan to begin vending your product.

6. Any individual who will use a bicycle to transact business in the City of Buffalo must apply for an Economic Impact study to be conducted by any available relatives of Mr. Brian Reilly. Bicyclists will be limited to the following sales zones: Goodyear Avenue, Grider Avenue, 10th Street, Lake Erie. Due to the unpredictable wave heights in the lake, a Coast Guard-approved floatation device must be attached to your bicycle at all times.

7. The sale of cheese is now prohibited within the City of Buffalo by any vendor whose last name begins with the letters “A” through “G” and/or “I” through “Z.”

8. It is illegal for vendors to sell alcohol to minors except in South Buffalo’s Cazenovia Park. For those vendors, a $1200 one-day temporary liquor license is available at the South Park Golf Course starter’s kiosk.

9. Once your application and supplemental forms have been approved, please report to the men’s room in Ellicott Creek Park for the “City of Buffalo New Vendor Orientation.” Remember to wear shorts.

10. It’s just that easy!

Civil Disobedience with a side of Toasted Almond

7 Jun

In comments, Jon Splett suggests:

If I was doing it, I’d get a hold of the guy and plan it for somewhere he’s banned from selling. Then have a TON of people show up and buy ice cream from him there illegally. It makes it more of a legit protest and not just people waiving signs. I doubt Johnny Law would show up and ticket him but if they did, chances are he’d make enough to cover the ticket or even pay it straight from donations of people there and it would demonstrate the ridiculousness of government protected corporate monopolies on certain public spaces in a really awesome way.

Plus the whole thing makes him a few bucks and keeps him in business which is a nice way of demonstrating support for local business.

I like this idea. A lot. I’m going to contact James the ice cream dude and suggest it to him. Lunchtime on a weekday somewhere from where he’s banned. Press release the shit out of it to make sure it makes the news and makes a splash.

This kid is getting harassed, pure and simple. It’s time the people of Buffalo stood up for small entrepreneurs.

Fuck tea parties. It’s ice cream social time.

But if the Ice Cream Guy Joined Grassroots…

7 Jun

Perhaps James the Ice Cream Bicycle Guy could apply for six figures’ worth of loans from BERC, but in smaller, less scrutinized incremental amounts, and then retain the assistance of a BERC official who’s friendly with the mayor and have her pay his bills, negotiate with vendors, and otherwise run his business while James himself flits off doing nothing. You can catch up on One Sunset with Jim Heaney.

Or maybe we don’t need that sort of excuse for “business development” and stop giving handouts to the misguided and well-connected, and start easing the path to success and growth to existing entrepreneurs.

When failures are self-inflicted, and happen with such regularity, you have to stop being apologetic or sad about it. You have to get angry.

An online petition has been set up, but frankly the travails of the ice cream bicycle guy, when juxtaposed with the too-generous handouts to One Sunset and the Mayor’s buddies, should be blown up into a massive campaign issue.

Buffalo City Hall & Buffalo Place

7 Jun