A news service for the people of Michigan from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

The city of Holland has reportedly granted limited permission to operate a downtown hot dog cart to Nathan Duszynski, the 13-year-old who received national attention for his efforts to open the cart to help his troubled family.

The Holland City Council voted Wednesday to allow Nathan to run his hot dog business until the end of October on the sidewalk adjacent to a downtown sporting goods store.

Reliable Sport had initially given Nathan permission to set up the stand in the store's parking lot. Minutes after Nathan opened for business on July 17, however, a city official informed him he was violating a city ordinance.

After a video by the Mackinac Center’s Anne Schieber helped the story go viral,[*] Nathan and his family petitioned the city for an exemption. At an Aug. 1 city council meeting, Holland Mayor Kurt Dykstra defended the ordinance as an appropriate protection from competition for area restaurants that paid special taxes.

When these events began, Nathan’s family faced significant challenges. Both his stepfather and mother suffer from disabilities, and they were unemployed. In the days since, their problems have mounted. Nathan’s stepfather, Doug Johnson, was arrested on an outstanding warrant and found to have a criminal history. Nathan and his mother, Lynette Johnson, temporarily moved into a homeless shelter, though they later left.

The city’s decision to provide Nathan with temporary permission to operate his hot dog cart is a welcome development. City officials have recognized through their actions that Holland’s zoning policies can have negative consequences for the economically vulnerable — in this case, for a 13-year-old boy who is trying to improve life for his family. And in fairness to the city’s leaders, Holland is just one of myriad American cities with similar regulations.

But Nathan is not the only would-be entrepreneur. Holland officials, who are reportedly exploring the creation of a food-cart zone, should review all of the city’s zoning ordinances to find ways to reduce barriers to economic opportunity. Restrictive policies often remove the bottom rungs of the economic ladder and make it hard for the economically disadvantaged to rise.

Lessening regulatory burdens to allow entrepreneurship will not necessarily result in happy endings. Nathan and his family still face real difficulties, and these may prevent Nathan from taking advantage of his new opportunity. Nevertheless, reducing exclusionary economic laws will not just provide more chances for happy endings; it will liberate people in their pursuit of happiness in ways that bring credit to a free society.  

[*] By the evening of Aug. 16, the video had received more than 100,000 online views.

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