Neither rain nor sun keep Vinnie Melito, left, and David Lewis from serving up hot dogs to hungry tourists and residents alike.
If you've driven down Marshall Street the last few Saturdays, you might have caught the city's newest eatery — parked on the side of road.
It's a hot dog cart and one of the first in recent memory to be seen about the city. The entrepreneurs of this wheeling weinie roaster are Vincent Melito and David Lewis, both former educators who were looking to do something in the retirement.
We caught up with them last Saturday in front of Gramercy Bistro's old location but didn't get a chance to try any of their dogs — the rain had them closing up a little earlier than usual.
Melito and Lewis, who've dubbed their enterprise "Guys and Dogs," have gone through the ServeSafe course and received their state and local permits for being open for special events. In North Adams, that's pretty much every weekend at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art but they've also be at the Mayor's Downtown Celebration on Aug. 25 and for other regional and local events. They're also available for private events.
But what made Melito, a former city councilor, and Lewis, a longtime garage owner, decide to start grilling? The retirees said they wanted something to do.
Melito said he'd been thinking about a small business for awhile, and a hot dog cart is pretty small. He found a willing partner in Lewis and support from both their wives, Margo and Rhea.
Besides, said Melito, it brings life to an often empty city street and creates a reason walk toward the downtown.
"We obviously enjoy meeting people, promoting our city and creating a vibrant city image with our cart," he said. One of the important community benefits that occurs is that our location is close to Mass MoCA and our business, along with the information we provide, contributes to drawing more tourists to the downtown area."
Both men said they had received a lot of positive response about the cart. They've also received a permit to operate in Adams.
They may have started something. At this week's City Council meeting, Mayor Richard Alcombright introduced Adams' lengthy and recently enacted vendor bylaw and asked the council to consider adopting. The bylaw, which is now under review, was taken up in Adams because one successful vendor last year turned into four or more looking to set up shop this year in the Mother Town.
Alcombright said Guys and Dogs wasn't the reason for the ordinance request, but rather a flurry of vendors looking to cash in on the upcoming Solid Sound Festival in August. The city's current ordinance is expected to suffice for now but the mayor wants to be ready for events in the future.
Meanwhile, you can catch the city's sole hot dog cart (for now, at least) on Marshall Street between the hours of 11 and 2 on Saturday and later in the evening on occasions when MoCA might have performances. The cart offers up all-beef Angus hot dogs, traditional condiments plus sauerkraut, chili and spicy cheese sauce, chips, soda, water and lemonade.
We're wondering what will happen with the mayor's request for a home-rule petition to keep Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco in the station house. He's facing mandatory retirement in the fall (he told us a few months ago he didn't want to retire); it will take a legislative action to keep him past his expiration date.
The mayor's reasoning is there are a lot of new hires in the fire and police forces and they need an experienced, steady hand; a commissioner also offers an administrative head who can focus on budgeting, prioritizing and emergency management services.
The commissioner spot was created three decades ago but some question the need with the city's reduced population and police force. There was some thought that Mayor Alcombright would use Morocco's forced retirement to reorganize public safety; apparently they were wrong.
Also on the agenda is a letter from the Department of Revenue about the city's $1.2 million out-of-whack 2011 budget. The bad news: the city better keep an eye on its minimal reserves and start some long-term planning.
There's been a fuss by a few about whether the city has to tax at its full levy capacity. Gerard Perry, state director of accounts, says: "The city has levied to the maximum levy limit allowed under Proposition 2 1/2. The city would need to tax at this levy limit in order to set the FY 2011 tax rate."
To lower the rate, it would have to start cutting or raise other revenue, both of which the administration says it's done.
There's a whole lot of other stuff Tuesday, too. Five reserve officers to be sworn in, updates on the multiple road projects, something on the Commission on Disabilities ... To find out what's happening, the entire agenda is available here.
Because of its lengthiness, I've separated out the important stuff: Commissioner of public safety home-rule petition is here and the letter from the DOR is here. The vendor ordinance is in the full agenda.
Links to these documents are also available through Tuesday on the front page. I've noticed quite a few but not a lot of hits on council documents I've uploaded to Scribd. I'd like some feedback — are they hard to find, do you subscribe, do you care?
Nevermind the trees. Now they're removing crosswalks!
We were a bit shocked to come back from vacation to find that the well-used crosswalk between Boxcar Media and Atef's Jeweler is being removed as part of the ongoing reconstruction of Main Street.
We're not sure why a crosswalk is being eliminated at the same time the city is trying to drive pedestrian traffic into the downtown. Was it something we said?
The walkway lies about midway between the intersection with Eagle and Ashland and the crosswalk in front TD Banknorth. We can attest to its usage - it's right outside our window.
Old habits die hard.
People park their cars to use the mailbox on the shady side of the street and then cross over to the bank. It's easier to use to get to Eagle Street or to the post office than crossing at the intersection, where you have to watch the lights at multiple stops and righthand-turning vehicles. There's no "safe" centerpoint either at the intersection.
We don't understand the thinking behind the crosswalk's elimination (Do we really have too many points to cross the street? Did people complain?) but we're pretty sure it will mean more pedestrians crossing at the lights and faster speeds by our window.
Meanwhile, we're watching people navigating the just-installed granite curbing — and wondering what it's doing there.
Update: We talked to the mayor after Tuesday's City Council meeting. He said one of the strings attached to the federal grants by the EPA requires that crosswalks be a certain distance apart to reduce the number of vehicles stopping and idling out emissions. Our crosswalk isn't far enough away from the other two to qualify — so out it goes.
Hey, we're against over-idling and for reducing emissions, but this isn't the big city. There's no bumper-to-bumber traffic. We don't think the occasional car that has to stop/slow for 5 seconds is going to make that big of a difference. Not that the federal government cares about our opinion.
Does the maple tree in front of Petrino's wonder if it's next on the chopping block?
New paving and pressed concrete are being installed along Main Street.
The trees around Main Street have been disappearing at a swift and alarming rate. Not to worry, says Mayor Richard Alcombright, the worst is over.
The trees are being removed as part of the $3.2 million downtown streetscape project. Some weren't healthy to begin with, others were beginning to endanger the sidewalks and yet others were likely to be damaged from the ongoing construction.
It's all part of the regular construction process but citizens are wondering why the massacre; Alcombright addressed the topic at a recent DNA meeting and we asked him about again on Monday.
"Many of the corners had to be dug up to adhere to ADA requirements; ADA compliant ramps under the new requirements have to be wider and have less of an angle," said the mayor on Monday afternoon. "Where they would be placed would damage the root balls anyways."
Several trees along what was once the grassy strip near Sleepy's weren't in good condition and were always going to be replaced. Two others in front of Jack's Hot Dog Stand on Eagle Street were removed because they were beginning to intrude into the sidewalk.
Trees and "ugly weeds" along American Legion will be removed and replaced with new trees as needed and ornamental grates similar to those on Main Street.
All of the trees will be replaced except two in front of the Mohawk Theater. "We're not going to being taking them down without putting them back up," said the mayor, but until the plans are finalized for the Mohawk, that section will be left bare of greenery.
The maples marked in front of Petrino's and the former Sports Corner at Holden Street aren't going anywhere, hopefully, despite their orange badges.
"I've asked them to dig gently around there," said Alcombright. It would have nicer to have leafier shade trees on the "sunny side of the street" and more ornamental on the south side, which has the most shade, he said.
But with plans for the streetscape finalized more than a year ago, the current administration was unprepared for how quickly the street's leafy denizens were being hacked and hauled away.
The mayor, administrative officer and other staff toured the construction areas with the engineers to ensure everyone was aware of the full plans.
"Some of the frustration was not having the full-scale understanding of the project," said Alcombright, who added "there will be no work on Eagle until Beach Party [on July 9] is through ... They are real sensitive to what's going to be done and they are halting when I see something I don't like."
The streetscape project won't be completed until summer 2011. It includes the laying of new conduit, sidewalks, lighting and traffic signals along River, Main, Eagle, Holden and Marshall streets, Route 2 and American Legion Drive.
Not all trees are attractive. The one in front of The Hub is skinny and and another in front of Sleepy's looks half dead. Below, what's left of the tree in front of the Baptist Church's side door on Eagle Street. We didn't even see that one come down.
:: Preliminary Election: Deadline to register is Wednesday, Sept. 7. (Office open from 8 to 8.)
:: General Election: Deadline to register is Tuesday, Oct. 18
Registration can be completed at the city clerk's office at City Hall.
Absentee ballots are now available at the city clerk's office for the Sept. 27 preliminary city election. Voters may come in between the hours of 8 and 4:30 weekdays. Written reguests for mailed ballots can be sent to City Clerk's Office, 10 Main St., North Adams, MA 01247. Deadline for absentee ballots is Monday, Sept. 26, at noon.
The preliminary election will be held Tuesday, Sept. 27, to narrow the field of three mayoral candidates to two. The general election to select nine city councilors and a mayor will be held Tuesday, Nov. 8.