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Posted on Tue, Sep 21, 2010 : 11:31 a.m.

Ann Arbor peddlers, solicitors, and mobile food - but not panhandlers

By Edward Vielmetti

Getting all of the proper permits to run a mobile food establishment on the streets of Ann Arbor is no small task. You can't just trundle up a hibachi to the corner of Fifth and Liberty streets and start grilling up chicken on a stick for sale without a sheaf of paperwork to legitimize your existence and to protect the citizenry from your overheated poultry.

The Ann Arbor City Council passed an ordinance last night reviving the city's task force aimed at controlling the problem of aggressive panhandling downtown. Here's a look at some of the hoops that you would have to jump through to legitimize your on-street retail sales and marketing activities, so that rather than being labelled as an "aggressive panhandler" you can rebrand yourself as a "skillful street vendor".


A pink State of Michigan Department of Agriculture sticker adorns the Roos Roast coffee tricycle. Photo by Edward Vielmetti

Peddlers and solicitors

If you want to sell or offer for sale goods and services on the streets of Ann Arbor, or if you want to go door-to-door making sales of items to be delivered later, you need to have a Peddler and Solicitor permit. The permit is defined in Chapter 79 of Ann Arbor City Code, and it spells out all of the requirements.

The application for such a license fills a page, and the city provides a helpful form for the license. The form collects a little bit more information than the ordinance requires; it asks, for example, for both your driver's license number and your Social Security number, when the ordinance at (7:63) specifies that either one is OK. Licenses are good for six months.

City Code specifies two pages full of requirements, and if the items to be sold are food items, further certification must be obtained from the County Health Officer (7:64). There is a break for fees if you are less than 14 years old and if you reasonably expect less than $100.00 profit from the activity (7:67). Peddlers and solicitors must carry public liability and personal injury insurance, naming the City of Ann Arbor as an insured party (7:68). The requirements for the insurance language are complicated enough that they fill an entire additional page, and specify that the City Attorney must approve the policy language with specific words omitted. I will not endeavor to describe these requirements, except to note that you would be good to select an insurance agent or representative who is capable of handling these requirements.

I would have liked to have given you a list of all of the current peddlers and solicitors, but because the aforementioned forms contain personal information including Social Security numbers and driver's license numbers, they were not available for inspection when I went to the Planning and Development Services office's Building Division at 2000 S. Industrial Highway this morning. I did get the blank form, and I was told that a FOIA request might be the the best way to get the detailed information that I was looking for since all records kept in that office contained protected personal information.


Mobile food establishments, food carts, and taco trucks

Veterans of the Art Fair know that lots of people do know the routine for getting that sheaf of paperwork in order. The nature of the Ann Arbor seasons is such that it's hard to run a year-round mobile food service and have it make sense. Art Fair brings all of the food trucks out, with their elephant ears and cotton candy and temporary food permits. Farmers Market brings out vendors with long-term stalls and commercial kitchens to cook their food. Mobile food carts selling coffee and hot dogs are out on the street at times, and vendors do a brisk business on football days if they are far enough away from the exclusion zones invalidating their permits near the stadium.

There isn't the "food truck" culture here in Ann Arbor with a panel van driving from place to place dishing out Korean-style tacos or other food innovations, though I am sure that we're only one potluck dinner and a big stack of permits away from making that happen.


  • Sidewalk occupancy application, City of Ann Arbor (PDF)
  • Food Service Forms, Washtenaw County Environmental Health. See espespecially the "Mobile Food Service Establishment Commissary Verification Form".
  • Food Law of 2000, State of Michigan. AN ACT to codify the licensure and regulation of certain persons engaged in processing, manufacturing, production, packing, preparing, repacking, canning, preserving, freezing, fabricating, storing, selling, serving, or offering for sale food or drink for human consumption.
  • Roos Roast has a fully licensed mobile coffee tricycle.
  • Follow Dad's Dogs on Twitter as @dadsdogs1 to see where his cart will be.
  • The closest taco trucks I know about are in southwest Detroit. Local food blogger Kitchenchick reviewed several taquerias in Mexicantown, including Tacos El Primo.
  • A March 2009 Concentrate piece on Twitter mentions Kogi BBQ in the context of local Twitter activities.

Edward Vielmetti is wondering when is going to send him out on the street to peddle newspapers, with or without a license. Contact him at 


Vivienne Armentrout

Fri, Sep 24, 2010 : 8:57 p.m.

I for one would welcome more buskers. When we first moved here there were a lot of independent musicians playing at Art Fair, but I gather the new regs make that difficult. Good street music is a pleasure every urban area should have.


Thu, Sep 23, 2010 : 3:04 p.m.

Hey Ed -- Why do you think there's no food truck culture in Ann Arbor? Surely the bureaucratic hurdles aren't insurmountable. It's an important question to me as I'm preparing a biz plan for a Malaysian-Mexican taco truck in the style of LA's Kogi Korean BBQ taco truck. --Makantaco

rusty shackelford

Wed, Sep 22, 2010 : 11:29 a.m.

I agree with Rod Johnson. We totally need one of these.


Wed, Sep 22, 2010 : 11:19 a.m.

Ann Arbor people are a bunch of hypocrits. They say they are liberal and care for poor folk until it happen in there own back yard. Then they dont want to see it or deal with it.

Rod Johnson

Tue, Sep 21, 2010 : 9:13 p.m.

Why is everyone overlooking the real issue here? "There isn't the 'food truck' culture here in Ann Arbor with a panel van driving from place to place dishing out Korean-style tacos". Why not? Where are my Korean tacos? C'mon people!

Tom Teague

Tue, Sep 21, 2010 : 5:33 p.m.

Ooops. I meant $15K, not $11K.

Tom Teague

Tue, Sep 21, 2010 : 4:15 p.m.

@Ed - Would the law signed by Governor Grantholm in July -- the law that relaxed regulations on some food vendors who make less than $11K a year -- have any effect on the sheaf of forms and permits that street vendors have to have? Here's a link to the story:

Atticus F.

Tue, Sep 21, 2010 : 4:12 p.m.

Demistify, people who panhandle do so because they barely have the skills to feed you really think they would be able to go through the process of applying for a permit? Sounds like just another excuse to go after societies poorest to me. But this time you justify putting these people in jail because they dont have a permit, because you cant justify locking them up for simply being poor.

Atticus F.

Tue, Sep 21, 2010 : 2:36 p.m.

A sad day in Ann Arbor for Kirby sales people.


Tue, Sep 21, 2010 : 1:42 p.m.

excellent point demistify...on a not totally unrelated topic street musicians- for- change in boston are required to have a permit and are given designated places to play.and audition too i believe. the consequence is often world- class music in subways etc ( not surprising given its plethora of conservatories and elite music schools...and impecunious students). given the number of ann arbor's talented, it too could be more rigorous in this respect and upgrade from the 'shakey jake', "yahoo on bongos", 3-chord dylan wannabe" school of public performance.


Tue, Sep 21, 2010 : 1:06 p.m.

After reading about all the bureaucratic hoops that street vendors have to jump through, I do not understand why these requirements cannot be applied to panhandlers. Panhandlers are street vendors trying to get you to part with your money; they just do not offer you anything of value in exchange. Would a vendor with a useless product also be excused from the permitting?