Pam Uslander, best known as the Hot Dog Lady of Elmhurst, will go up against the city council on Monday, when aldermen will vote on whether to eliminate her spot at York Street and the Schiller Passageway, where she has been selling hot dogs from her iconic pushcart since 1991.
A report drafted by the Elmhurst Public Affairs and Safety Committee wants to eliminate two of the four pushcart locations, including the spot at York Street and the Schiller Passageway, where the Hot Dog Lady operates.
“I’ve been here 23 years with my stand,” Uslander said. “Selling hot dogs is my sole means of income.”
Uslander wants to keep her spot at York and the Schiller Passageway because she can be seen from blocks away and in all directions. Office workers, kids going to East End pool, housewives, construction workers -- they all look for her red and white umbrella, letting them the buns and dogs are steamed, and she’s open for business.
The city wants to move Uslander 75 feet across York street to the City Centre. According to the Hot Dog Lady, the city--or someone--thinks she will become a public safety hazard if she is to remain where she is at once construction gets underway on a proposed parking garage a block and a half away.
“I can understand moving me temporarily during construction,” she says, “but not permanently.”
Uslander thinks she knows who may be leading the charge -- Willis Johnson -- owner of the landmark York Theater, part of Classic Cinemas, a company that endeavors to bring old downtown movie palaces back to life, as well as other assets.
“He’s coming up with excuses that there will be construction and massive amounts of people,” Uslander said. “They’re possible scenarios.”
Johnson, whose family-owned Classic Cinemas and Tivoli Enterprises are based in Downers Grove, owners several properties south of Second Street leading up to the Schiller Passageway, where Uslander operates. He also sits on the City Centre Board of Directors.
Last summer, there was a bit of a sandwich sign tiff with a nearby restaurant owner. Uslander claims the restaurant is in a bad spot, so the owner kept putting a sandwich sign in front of her cart.
“We went back and forth. Any sidewalk sandwich sign in the city of Elmhurst is illegal, yet they’re all over,” Uslander said. “Why isn’t everyone up in arms about sandwich signs? Who’s [the restaurant’s owner] landlord, Willis Johnson.”
Johnson confirms that he sits on the City Centre Board, yet insists he’s not the one leading the charge the ordinance to reduce pushcart locations.
“Since the ordinance was first created, no one has used two of them,” Johnson said. “It just seemed time to revise the ordinance.”
In his opinion, the spot across the street in City Centre is better location for the Hot Dog Lady.
“There is more foot traffic in and around the plaza,” Willis said. “It seemed like it would work better if she moved across the street.”
Uslander says she would lose visibility moving across York Street. She says that the most congestion her cart ever caused was at the summer car show when people came out to buy her hot dogs.
“He holds no political title yet he controls a lot of politicians,” she said. “It’s not just me moving the street, it’s a lot deeper.”
Meanwhile, over 700 fans have signed Uslander’s Change.org petition, asking Mayor Steve Morley and the City Council to let the Hot Dog Lady continue doing business at the same location. Uslander is trying to collect many signatures as she can before Monday’s city council meeting.
“[There] is an old-fashioned charm to The Hot Dog Lady's trade, and whether you buy hot dogs from her or not, it's part of the attraction to downtown Elmhurst,” Patch blogger Dave Noble said, “the same way the City Centre fountains are, and the same way the blazing light bulbs of the York Theatre sign are.”
The Elmhurst City Council meets at 7:30 p.m. Monday, at 209 N. York St. Visit Change.org to sign the Hot Dog Lady’s petition.