Police calls. Price wars. Letters to the mayor and City Council.
All hell has broken loose on a tiny section of Manitou Avenue. What could cause so much commotion in such a very small town?
Here's a hint: It's made of stainless steel, topped with a jaunty red and yellow umbrella, and it smells of mustard.
No bologna. It's a weenie cart.
"I'm just a pimple on a gnat's ass," says Andy Wells, the middle-aged businessman (literally) behind the Pikes Peak Hot Dogs and Brats cart.
That hasn't stopped the owners of Wells' neighboring business, Patsy's of Manitou — which also sells hot dogs, along with various snacks, treats and candy — from doing everything in their power to push his cart out of town. Wells says it started June 20, the day he came into Manitou.
"They called the cops on me!" he says incredulously.
Actually, he says, Patsy's owners Jack and Ellie Johns have called the cops on him four times.
Jack Johns initially refuses to speak with the Indy, saying, "You guys are slanted and unfactual."
But when asked anyway about the ongoing beef with his neighbor, now being jokingly referred to in town as "the wiener wars," Johns looks angry and says, "There are no wiener wars!"
Why, then, has he quartered the price of a hot dog to $1 and duct-taped signs advertising it all over the outside of his building?
"We try to help the economy and sell our hot dogs for $1," he says.
In a pickle
The Johnses' position on the Vienna Beef cart is made perfectly clear in a four-page letter (single-spaced) to the Manitou Springs City Council. The couple contends that the cart is illegal, since Manitou doesn't allow sidewalk vendors. They go on to question whether Wells has been inspected by the El Paso County Department of Health and Environment, as required, and whether he's properly collecting sales tax.
They go on to claim Wells is "barking" at tourists and "basically telling them not to buy from Patsy's." (Wells denies those claims, though this reporter did observe him from a distance asking passersby if they were interested in a hot dog or brat.)
The Johnses go on to say that the wiener cart shouldn't be allowed in town, because its owner (who happens to be a third-generation Manitoid) couldn't possibly be interested in giving back to the community in terms of donations and community service. And, they say, the cart will make the town less pleasant for tourists.
Shockingly, even if the claims were true, neither would preclude Wells from getting a business permit in Manitou Springs.
"It is becoming increasingly difficult for our tourists to walk around all the tables, cooler [sic], signs, tents, etc. and barking, harassing vendors," they wrote. "It is beginning to remind me of small towns in underdeveloped countries like Mexico."
Of course, the Johnses say, they're not opposed to competition. They have no problem with the other candy, ice cream and frozen custard shops that have opened up around them. But times are tough, they say. And little hot dog carts that can open during tourism season and close for the winter have an unfair advantage. So much of an advantage, Jack Johns says, that they could put traditional shops like his — which has been around since 1903 — out of business.
The letter goes on to say that the Business Improvement District, of which Jack Johns is a board member, may work to draft a city ordinance this fall that would forbid sidewalk vending, with City Council's approval.
Hey, no conflict of interest there.
Manitou planning director Dan Folke has some insight on this footlong fiasco.
The hot dog cart is on private property — the Royal Tavern's private property. And it's operating under the Royal's license, which allows them to sell alcohol and food. Now, the cart is technically in "the public domain," or space considered public even if it is privately owned. But so are retailers' clothes racks and signs, and restaurants' beverage coolers.
"My view is, we're not regulating retailers doing this, so restaurants should have an equal opportunity," Folke says.
That said, he has sent the issue to Council for consideration. City leaders could, with due process, revoke the Royal's permit, but they'd have to cite a specific cause. In Folke's opinion, they don't have one.
Folke says he did originally want a fence around the hot dog cart, but now sees no need for it, and says it isn't a city code requirement. As for those health inspections? He says they're up to date. As are sales taxes. In fact, Wells even provided the Indy a copy of his stamped receipt from his latest sales tax payment.
Don Moses, the Royal's owner, says he doesn't understand why his longtime neighbors have suddenly turned against him — especially over a few brats and wieners.
"They're making a ton of money," Moses says. "I don't see how Andy's hot dog cart is taking any business from them."