VENTNOR — Buying ice cream from one of the city’s 15 vendors is more than just a simple transaction for many of the city’s beach goers.
Mark Naman, who has been going to Ventnor beaches for twenty years, said he was surprised to learn the Board of Commissioners would discuss possibly ending the sale of individual vendor licenses to veterans at its next workshop meeting March 8.
“A lot of the ice cream vendors on the beach have now become a part of the experience. I think it’s horrible to go change that. To me, it’s a big part of going to the beach in Ventnor in the summer,” he said.
Although the city has no formal action planned, Commissioner Tim Kriebel had proposed Ventnor auction a single license to the highest bidder so the city could generate more revenue, according to his statement on the city’s website.
According to Kriebel, Ventnor sold 15 individual licenses last summer at $55 each for a total revenue of $825 while other municipalities that take bids for their contracts, such as Sea Isle City and Margate, made $251,000 and $85,000, respectively.
JJ Mirallegro, a Ventnor ice cream vendor for 17 years, posted on Facebook on Feb. 28 the highest bidder could potentially raise the cost of ice cream, change the ice cream selection and decline to hire veterans.
After seeing Mirallegro’s post, Naman created an online petition to send to the commissioners.
“I’m worried that when you contract out something like this to a corporation, that a corporation by definition is concerned mostly just with the bottom line.” Naman said.
“There’s nothing wrong with that, but I think in this situation that will hamper the product, and the product is more than just the ice cream. It’s the experience of buying ice cream on the beach in the summer as part of your vacation or your time at the shore.”
As of Wednesday, the petition had gained more than 10,000 signatures.
“That's what this petition is showing me. That the customers who like buying ice cream on the beach want it to stay the way it is. They like the way it's set up. They like the services they’re getting and the product they’re receiving, in this case ice cream sales.”
Naman grew up in Maryland, but has been going to the beach in Ventnor ever since meeting his wife, Maryse, a former Linwood resident.
Naman said he was impressed by the friendliness the ice cream vendors showed when conducting business.
“They weren’t there pushing ice cream on you or just sales guys. They were engaging with everybody, and they felt like an atmosphere and part of the community there.”
The Namans, who live in Indiana during the winter, still bring their six children to their home in Ventnor in the summer. Their children now buy ice cream from the same ice cream man whom Maryse Naman bought from when she was a child.
Kriebel said he understands the connection beachgoers have with ice cream vendors, and he wants to be clear that the board will not push for any official contract change.
“But at this time, this has proven to be too emotionally connected to the vendors and how it benefits veterans to pursue a change in the ordinance. So, it will be simply a discussion item at the commission meeting,” Kriebel said.
Still, Kriebel believes that the proposal warrants public discussion.
“My opinion hasn’t changed. I still feel the obligation to reform policy that can lessen the taxpayer’s burden, and I’ll continue to analyze and ask for alternatives and suggest change when the taxpayers interests are being affected,” Kriebel said.
Kriebel said he will also push for more enforcement of the original ordinance that has been in effect since 1956.
He said he was prompted to re-evaluate the city’s code last summer when the city received several complaints of violations including vendors setting up stationary tent storefronts, selling water, disputing territories and disregarding the dress code and code of conduct.
Naman understands Kriebel’s responsibilities as a commissioner, but hopes the city will look elsewhere for revenue.
“I get it there’s always going to be towns and governments looking for ways to generate more revenue for themselves, but I’m not sure that this is the best one,” Naman said.
The Board of Commissioners' next meeting will be 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 8, at City Hall.