Even icy winds couldn't keep UVM students from lining up outside the yellow Pam's Deli truck on University Place at noon on Monday. Senior Shea Hagy, who ordered a chicken Philly sandwich, said, "I eat here every chance I get."
Pam Bissonnette and her husband George own the truck, one of three or four that appear on the short campus street during weekdays when school is in session. For 23 years, they've paid the city a rental fee to park there and feed students, staff and hospital workers. On Monday night, the Burlington City Council considered a plan to give University Place to UVM. Two vendors -- and roughly 30 of their customers -- showed up to oppose it.
From the city's standpoint, transferring ownership of the street might make sense. They wouldn't have to plow it in winter, or pay to maintain it. In a memo distributed to city councilors and to the university community, UVM called the deal a "win-win" situation. They'd have more control over how the area looks, and could incorporate it into the school's forthcoming Master Plan.
But opponents of the exchange saw darker motives at work. Should the street become UVM's private property, they reasoned, it would be subject to the school's contract with food service giant Sodexho, which has exclusive rights to serve food on campus. UVM and Sodexho could then remove the street vendors, thereby consolidating Sodexho's monopoly over on-campus dining.
Thomas Gustafson, the University's vice president for student and campus life, tried to calm fears of a Sodexho takeover. He told the audience that even if UVM took possession of the street, they'd let the vendors stay -- at least until August 1, 2005. Privately, he dismissed the concerns. "It's ludicrous," he said. "Sodexho works for us. If we want the vendors on campus, we'll figure it out."
But opponents were not content to leave it up to the University to decide. They circulated a petition asking the Council to keep the street. When Pam Bissonnette delivered her pile, she'd collected 581 signatures. Blondini's and Lucky Chinese submitted some, too.
Ward One Councilor Ian Carleton seemed surprised by the outpouring of public comment on the plan, which Gustafson says has been discussed, off and on, for a decade or so. After several students, professors and vendors spoke supporting the trucks, the council voted to study the matter further in committee.
Bissonnette was pleased. "I think we've got a future up there," she said. "They know the students and everyone else is behind us."