Sunday, August 13, 2000

Peanut vendors

Legislating the life out of our city

        The smell of peanuts has always been the warm-up act for the Reds. And for the come-lately football team.

        For the past eight years, Tom Hagins has been pleased to perform.

        Honored, in fact.

        “I want to vend peanuts before Reds and Bengals games until I am an old, old man,” he says. “Just like Peanut Jim.”

        Well, good luck, Tom.

        Things have changed since Peanut Jim Shelton, the legendary vendor in a top hat and bow tie, was allowed to set up shop. Professional sports is an ever bigger business. Businesslike, too, we might add.

Tom Hagins
Tom Hagins
        Today, somebody probably would try to institute a dress code for Peanut Jim. Really, that hat. So retro. Or they would sell the naming rights to his peanut cart. A natural for Delta, surely one of the premier peanut vendors on the planet Earth.

        Tidy. Predictable. Cup holders on the seats. No Marge. No dogs. No loose cannons. In fact, no loose lips at all, football-wise, thanks to a loyalty clause for players.

Voluntary gagging
               Some people call it a gag rule. But most of us hardly need encouragement to gag every time we think of how much of our money is being spent. But that billion-dollar train has left the tracks. So, let's talk about a $2 bag of peanuts.

        At the request of the football team, Cincinnati City Council approved emergency ordinances Aug. 2 prohibiting vendors between Gest Street and Broadway south of Third. Not surprisingly, the vendors raised a stink. They were trying to protect their business, as surely as Mike Brown was trying to protect — and expand — his.

        Tom started by selling licorice whips. His first night, he sold six at $1 each. “I hung in there, learned a lot about selling, about crowd flow,” says the 38-year-old Mt. Washington man.

Prosperity for all
               “You've got to have a good location.” Well, certainly the Reds and the Bengals who argued mightily for some of the most valuable real estate in the region would understand this.

        And perhaps all concerned should remember the original promise of the stadium tax. Prosperity for all. A big-league city. That's what we were told, right?

        And don't you love the sudden concern of a city government that sent us out like rats in a maze through the construction mess for months? Heavy equipment darting into traffic with giddy abandon. One-way streets that become two-way and back to one-way with delicious stealth.

        Don't you just have to admire the sheer gall of officials now so concerned for our safety that they must pass a special ordinance to protect us from peanut vendors?

        Mayor Charlie Luken finally scratched his head and said the whole situation is confusing. An embarrassment. A new policy will be drafted. An emergency council session will be called. There will be bobbing and weaving. Delay.

        Meanwhile, Tom Hagins is not sure where he's allowed to sell peanuts. It's a business, of course. He has 10 locations now, doing significantly better than $6 a night. But he is also part of the fabric of Cincinnati that continues to be sterilized. We've got TJ Maxx but no Batsakes. A little Lazarus but no little Kathman's.

        The whole thing smells.

        And it doesn't smell like peanuts.

       E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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