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Ousted vendor offers another twist on the city's pretzel war

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 4, 2010 - All is not quiet on the Pretzel War front as the city and ousted vendors continue to throw stones over "sticks."

Reuben Galvin says he and his brother haven't sold a Gus' pretzel stick on Jamieson Avenue in weeks but remain under siege by city officials, including Mayor Francis Slay who has been writing about the fracas on his blog. 

"Why is he continuing to kick us while we're down? It's not necessary to kick us when we're not even out there," Galvin said.

In his latest entry, Slay reiterated that city inspectors have too much to do to be cracking down on pretzel peddlers who are violating the city's minor nuisance ordinances by selling from the median along Jamieson. He urged residents to let the marketplace rule by buying their pretzels from Joe Kunkel, 87, who has been a fixture at the intersection of Jamieson and Fyler for nearly three decades.

Slay acknowledged that Kunkel was also in violation of the city's vending zone ordinances but that he bothered no one. The mayor wrote that it was the "more aggressive and visible sales tactics" of newcomers that brought neighborhood complaints -- and the attention of city officials.

Kunkel, a low-key gent who has always shied away from media attention, has now become the center of it all. When the city began to crack down, Kunkel worried that he, too, would be booted from his spot. In an interview with the Beacon published on May 23, Kunkel said he feared that supporters who were trying to protect him from competitors by complaining to the city had actually spurred officials to enforce the rules and put them all out of business.

Kunkel, who used to sell pretzels daily, now works primarily on weekends. A Facebook page has sprung up to support him.

Todd Waelterman, the city's director of streets, has said that his inspectors won't go looking for pretzel vendors -- and that his inspectors don't work on weekends. More than 3,000 supporters have joined a Facebook campaign on Kunkel's behalf.

Galvin said that on Saturday, as Kunkel sold pretzels at Fyler and Jamieson, he was at his old spot at the Pernod intersection collecting money for BackStoppers, which assists the families of police and firefighters. Galvin said he was questioned by police who allowed him to stay.

Galvin said that he and his brother John have been vilified by the complaints. He denies that they were "aggressive" but were attempting to take vending to the next level by using professional signs and adhering to health ordinances. He also denies that they infringed on Kunkel's turf -- that they only sold at Kunkel's spot when he wasn't there.

"This has taken on a life of its own,'' Galvin said.

Galvin said that the city is not enforcing its laws uniformly.

"One, it's illegal to sell in the right-of-way. Two, the mayor is advocating supporting Joe even though we're not allowed to sell," Galvin said. "They've threatened us with arrest if we show up. Then they claim, simultaneously, if there are no complaints they won't act.'' 

Mary Delach Leonard is a veteran journalist who joined the St. Louis Beacon staff in April 2008 after a 17-year career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she was a reporter and an editor in the features section. Her work has been cited for awards by the Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors, the Missouri Press Association and the Illinois Press Association. In 2010, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis honored her with a Spirit of Justice Award in recognition of her work on the housing crisis. Leonard began her newspaper career at the Belleville News-Democrat after earning a degree in mass communications from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she now serves as an adjunct faculty member. She is partial to pomeranians and Cardinals.

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