For 23 years, generations of Elmhurst residents and visitors have picked up a Vienna Beef hot dog from Bensenville resident Pamela Uslander’s cart at York Street and the Schiller Passageway. But now, the self-proclaimed “Hot Dog Lady of Elmhurst” is fighting to keep her spot.
“I see some of the people more than I see my own family,” said Uslander, of the relationships she’s made with customers and regulars in the downtown.
She’s gathered more than 300 signatures during the past week on the website www.change.org.
The Elmhurst City Council soon will vote on a report from the Public Affairs and Safety Committee that would permanently eliminate Uslander’s spot from the approved locations for pushcart food vendors.
The report also recommends the council eliminate the southeast corner of Addison Avenue and Second Street from the four locations currently allowed. That leaves the east side of Spring Road at the Illinois Prairie Path and the northeast corner of York and Schiller streets near the City Centre fountain.
Effectively, the recommendation moves Uslander, the city’s only pushcart food vendor, across the street from where she’s stood for more than two decades.
“I wouldn’t have minded moving temporarily,” Uslander said.
Her petition asks that she be allowed to keep her spot and her annual license fee of $500. While the committee did review the pushcart food vendor license fee, the report recommends the fee not be adjusted.
Assistant City Manager Mike Kopp said city staff brought the ordinance to the committee for review.
“We took a look at the change in City Centre,” said Patrick Wagner, committee chairman and Seventh Ward alderman.
The committee’s report cites “concerns over the safety and practicality” of the two downtown locations in jeopardy. “Current congestion and potential construction throughout the area” also are mentioned in the report.
He said the only approved construction project in the area now is the Addison Park Deck.
“There’s already a four-story parking deck approved,” Wagner said.
Because of that, Wagner believes the retail on the first floor of the project will increase foot traffic in the Schiller Passageway. While he said the committee didn’t see an increase in pedestrian traffic recently, he said the committee would like to open the passage.
“I didn’t pose a safety hazard during Cool Cars when it was at its peak. This doesn’t make sense,” Uslander said.
Elmhurst Fire Chief Jeffery Bacidore responded via email to calls from Suburban Life Media, stating his concerns are the same as the committee’s.
The report also removes 10 special food vendor spots in the Schiller Passageway that are allowed during automobile exhibition events, since Cool Cars Under the Stars won’t be held this year.
“We’ll always be looking at this ordinance,” Wagner said.
He explained that as the downtown changes, new discussions and analysis are necessary.
“Change is usually good,” he said.
Uslander said she’s seen the downtown change a lot during the past 23 years, but not always for the best.
“It was just such a quaint town, and it had such character. ... It’s lost that,” she said.
She started her hot dog cart in tribute to her own childhood in Chicago when she remembers her family would stop by a cart on Milwaukee Avenue for a few dogs during a busy Saturday afternoon of shopping.
In Elmhurst, seniors often stop by and tell her which Chicago hot dog carts they remember visiting during their childhood, and young parents come by with their children because they remember Uslander’s cart from when they were kids.
“I’ve now created those memories for them that I have,” Uslander said.
Uslander likes her spot because not only can patrons on York Street see her cart’s umbrella, but through the Schiller Passageway, shoppers on Addison Avenue can see if she’s there. She worries that, on the other side of York, Addison shoppers won’t be able to spot her through the passage.
“There are other vendors that are probably willing to be at that location,” Wagner said. “This is not about the hot dog lady.”
While Uslander usually rolls out her cart in April, she’s been left in limbo while the city considers moving her across the street.
The Elmhurst City Council is expected to vote on the committee’s report at Monday’s meeting.
Those who wish to support Uslander can view her petition at http://shawurl.com/135p.
Pushcart food vendors in nearby towns
Lombard: $50 fee, but village requires a public hearing to get conditional use for outdoor sales of products
Downers Grove: Not allowed
Villa Park: No fees, only requires approval from DuPage County Health Department
La Grange: Only allowed at special events, not daily
Naperville: $225 downtown food vendor Special Service Area (SSA) fee and $50 application/ID fee