Small biz blues in Columbia?

Bryan Scott addresses the Columbia City Council on Monday night.

For Bryan Scott, his goal of the past nine years to operate a small business in Columbia went down the drain last week.

“My dreams of opening The Truck Stop Columbia are dead,” Scott said in a statement to the Columbia City Council on Monday night.

Scott, owner of the popular Doggie Mac’s food truck, began leasing a property at 613 N. Main Street last year with a vision to establish a permanent place incorporating a food truck atmosphere.

He said it was the “perfect spot for a food truck park” and his “dreams began to grow.” 

His dream became a nightmare after receiving a notice from the city building inspector citing costly plumbing and ADA requirements which would have needed to be addressed in order to allow customers in the building. 

In light of an estimated $80,000 in additional expenses, Scott – the sole investor in the business – made the decision to abandon The Truck Stop Columbia.

While Scott questioned the need to update the entire plumbing system since the building had been occupied by a spa business just prior to when he began his lease, he was more upset by the inspection report coming eight months after he began work to open his restaurant.

“The process of opening and starting a business in the City of Columbia is broken. There is no guidance, little support and as a business owner, I was left to feel alone in the process, and I know there are others who share the feeling,” Scott told the council.

Before leasing the property, Scott said he approached the city and received a “great response” from city staff when he shared his ideas.

“For the next eight months, I began a cycle of misinformation, debt, frustration, complaints and ultimately, disappointment,” Scott recalled. “I am here to say that the process of opening a business in Columbia as a new business owner – and probably as an existing business owner – is at the very least frustrating and at the very most downright egregious.”

Scott posted his frustration on The Truck Stop Columbia Facebook page, prompting a quick response from Columbia Mayor Bob Hill and a subsequent meeting Monday morning.

While the meeting did not result in Scott deciding to keep his business open, he said it was a “pleasure” to meet with Hill, Columbia City Administrator Doug Brimm and Columbia Director of Community Development Scott Dunakey. 

“I appreciate their time, their concern and genuine remorse,” Scott said, adding he was encouraged the city  offered “possible solutions and not just an apology. … I appreciate Bob Hill for reaching out to me and setting up a meeting for this morning ahead of this council meeting. That means a lot to me. I think that says a lot about him.”

Hill also acknowledged the problems Scott has encountered.

“As a small business owner myself, I know the challenges individuals face,” Hill said. “It is not the intentions, nor should it be the practice of the city to make it even harder.”

Scott’s stated goal in speaking during Monday’s council meeting is to affect change in city policy.

“I am not speaking for myself, but I am speaking for the business owners who may come after me,” Scott said. “I am speaking to keep the City of Columbia accountable for what they told me that they believed in, which is growing a city that supports and thrives off of small businesses. I urge the city to hold true to this process and develop a system to help small businesses identify challenges, solutions and ways forward for their projects.” 

In addition to the lack of clarity from the city, Scott alleged “there were others in the government I felt were flat-out blocking my progress.”

Hill addressed Scott’s comment through the Bob Hill Columbia Mayor Facebook page Monday “in the interest of transparency” and to further explain the city’s handling of Scott’s dilemma. 

“At all times, the city strives to provide a high level of service to our residents, business owners and visitors. In this particular instance, some errors were made, “ Hill admitted.

“Many issues encountered by Mr. Scott could have been avoided through clear, timely communication,” Hill continued, noting since one “particular factor relates to a personnel matter, I cannot elaborate any further, but can state that this is being addressed.”

The council adjourned to a lengthy closed session immediately after public comments for the purpose of discussing personnel, although no official action was voted on as a result. 

Another speaker during public comment was Salle Plunkett, property manager for Concept Real Estate. She spoke on behalf of owners of an apartment complex adjacent to 613 N. Main Street – known as the Old Distillery Center – claiming Scott’s Facebook post “wasn’t completely honest.”

She also said the Crawford family, owners of the apartments in question, were “slandered” and have been “in support of Mr. Scott the whole time.”

Plunkett also defended Columbia building official Justin Osterhage, whom Scott alleged bowed to pressure from Jane Crawford and intentionally delayed action or outright ignored requests for information.

“I think Mr. Osterhage has done his job here and it’s not something he should be blamed for,” Plunkett continued.

She concluded by stating the business was “12 inches from our building. It’s causing problems for the tenants, who are also residents of Columbia.”

While Scott has closed the door on future operations at 613 N. Main Street, he and Hill suggested a future project may be in the works.

“It’s great to see all the love for Columbia businesses,” Hill concluded, adding the city will be “working with Bryan (Scott) on an exciting opportunity.”

It was announced Tuesday that two of Scott’s ventures, Doggie Mac’s and The Truck Stop, will be featured at The Pop-Up Park for a Valentine’s Day Food Truck event, “For the Love of Food,” from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 14-16 at 130 S. Rapp Ave.

Scott concluded his statement by suggesting the city can control whether or not a future business can be a reality for him and other small businesses owners in Columbia.

He said the city’s actions moving forward can go a long way to dispel the perception of Columbia as “anti-small business” and “anti-small person.” 

He added the city has the opportunity to take “progressive direction when it comes to diversity in business and diversity in thought as well.”

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