Dogging the competition?

University’s move to claim sidewalk would oust popular vendor

DOG WALK?<br>Some people came to John and Ethel Geiger’s hot dog stand specifically to sign the petition in support of Crazy Dog and didn’t even buy a dog. The stand is popular with staff and faculty members as well as students.

Some people came to John and Ethel Geiger’s hot dog stand specifically to sign the petition in support of Crazy Dog and didn’t even buy a dog. The stand is popular with staff and faculty members as well as students.

Photo By Tom Angel

Geiger counter: The Geigers have gathered about 1,800 signatures on the “Save Crazy Dog” petition. By way of comparison, 2,571 students voted in last spring’s Associated Students elections.

The people lined up to sign the “Save Crazy Dog” petition were as hot as a Spicy Dog. As the usual closing time of 2 p.m. came and went, business showed no sign of slowing down, and the signatures were coming at a rate of about five a minute.

“To get rid of the hot dog guy is unthinkable,” said Paul Perrone, a communications junior, adding his name to a petition taped to a cardboard Coke carton. “When I’m late for that 9:30 class, this is where I stop. I think he needs to stay here.”

John Geiger, who owns the stand with his wife, Ethel, was gathering hundreds of signatures a day and was up to about 1,800 at press time. He’ll take the petitions to the April 1 Chico City Council meeting, where councilmembers will discuss the issue of whether to abandon and vacate the portion of the sidewalk where he’s set up shop. If they succeed, the university will order Crazy Dog to take a walk.

A Feb. 12 city memo read, “California State University, Chico has petitioned the City of Chico to abandon a portion of the intersection of West 1st Street and Ivy Street so it can control vendors on this portion of the sidewalk.”

“I don’t think the council’s going to do it,” predicted City Manager Tom Lando. “The council seemed very sympathetic to the hot dog vendor.”

Lando said the city likely acquired the land during the Warner Street reconstruction about eight years ago. “It actually is an easement, which means if we abandon it, it goes back to the university.”

Eventually, the university will need that bit of land to follow through on its plans to create another entrance to the campus from Warner Street. A building is also slated to go in that area.

Geiger expected it would one day come to this. The question on his mind is, does the university need him gone now, or does it—at the behest of the Associated Students—just want to dog the competition?

Geiger is playing the role of David to the university’s Goliath to the hilt.

His wife, Ethel, dressing the dogs at eight months pregnant, rarely sits down for a rest, busily assembling dogs, chopping fresh tomato and cheerily accepting congratulations from customers.

The Geigers almost didn’t see the ouster attempt coming.

“I heard a rumor last Monday [the day before the March 4 City Council meeting] that it was going to be on the agenda—the consent agenda,” John Geiger said. The consent agenda is reserved for routine, non-controversial matters. The item ended up being pulled as councilmembers questioned the university’s rationale for effectively putting someone out of business.

Geiger said he knows that someday the university will go through with its plans to develop another entrance for Warner Street. But, until then, he doesn’t see why his family, and hungry hot dog fans, shouldn’t benefit from his business acumen.

Geiger graduated from Chico State in 1992 with a degree in liberal studies but decided against teaching. Three and one-half years ago, a friend gave him the idea of opening up a hot dog stand.

“Somebody told me that there used to be, a long time ago, another vendor on this spot,” Geiger said. So he went to City Hall and checked property records, finding that a small stretch of sidewalk along Ivy Street, just before it turns into Warner across from the parking structure, was technically under the city’s control. He secured a vending permit and set up shop. Not long after, someone from the A.S. reported him to campus police, the department confirmed. But Geiger had found his loophole and was in the clear.

“I think the A.S. is behind [the abandonment effort], but I recognize the argument of the university,” he said.

While student government officers in prior years stated a beef with the vendor (see sidebar, above), currently seated officers have said little about the issue.

“My opinion is the A.S. needs to stay out of it,” said Michael Dailey, A.S. executive vice president. “The A.S. is not pushing it.”

At the March 11 meeting of the A.S. Governmental Affairs Committee, A.S. Vice President for Business and Finance Tiffany Yost urged members: “Do not bring the A.S. into this. This isn’t an A.S. issue. … This is really sensitive, and we don’t want the community and the students backlashing against the A.S. and our staff.”

While the A.S. Bookstore is profitable, its food service operations have been in the red for several years now. The department is in the midst of a marketing plan to improve sales.

The A.S. is a nonprofit corporation generating more than $20 million for student programs and employing 700-plus people. The A.S. is a business, and when it does well, that means more money for student programs. While it’s a big business relative to one hot dog guy, it’s not exactly a corporate powerhouse. But its leaders do know how to play the competition game.

The Geigers’ stand, which opens at 7 a.m., has been averaging 200-250 hot dogs sold each day, with a record of 318. They sell for $1.50 to $2.50.

A short walk away, at the Free Speech Area, the A.S.'s hot dog stand was as dismal as Crazy Dog was busy. The two employees tending the stand said it had been that way all day, even at $3 for a dog, chips and soda.

Geiger said that, when he is eventually forced to move, he’ll set up his cart in another part of town rather than move to the perimeter of campus where other vendors have staked out spots.

“I think we would have to leave the campus area,” he said. “We have people coming from five directions here. [Moving] would cut our business in half at least.”

In the meantime, the Geigers are happy about the baby due April 15 and seem to be enjoying the attention the controversy has brought. “Sometimes rules are complicated,” Ethel Geiger said. “I expected it from the beginning. I knew there was going to be trouble.”

What may be most interesting about the controversy is how it’s rallied the often-apathetic student body.

“I love this place," said Steven Terwiske, a history senior who eats at Crazy Dog three or four times a week. "It just smells so good, and it’s so cheap. It kills the BMU. This is the best dog in Chico right here."