Nfld. & Labrador

Businesses-on-wheels put it in park at St. John's Farmers' Market

Forty mobile vendors, including craftspeople, clothing retailers and food outlets set up shop at an evening event at the St. John’s Farmers' Market.

Food trucks and other vendors struggle with parking, find new ways to meet customers

The St. John's Community Market at night. (Sarah Smellie/CBC)

Food trucks and other itinerant enterprises, which typically set up shop in downtown St. John's parking spots, are shifting gears and exploring new ways to serve their customers.

Forty mobile vendors, including craftspeople, clothing retailers and food outlets — and even a bar — set up shop at an evening event at the St. John's Farmers' Market.

"I think it is really important for the few businesses that are mobile here to work together and to keep doing things together," said Aryn Ballett, the owner of Scout General Store, a clothing and accessory shop which operates out of a converted RV.

Mobile businesses are gaining in popularity in part because of their flexibility. Operators aren't tied to a particular location; they don't have to pay property tax or utility bills.

Aryn Ballett says mobile businesses need to work together. (Sarah Smellie/CBC)

But the untethered nature of the business model means there are no guarantees a vendor will find a parking spot or that customers will seek out the business in its varying locations.

"My customers wanted to shop at night and they wanted to know where I was going to be ahead of time, which isn't possible when you're pulling up to a parking space," Ballett said.

Hungry, hungry parking meters

Ballet described the challenge of finding a parking spot in downtown St. John's. The only street that offers more than two hours parking is Harbour Drive, which sees little foot traffic.

The St. John's Farmers Market night market even had a couple of DJs. (Sarah Smellie/CBC)

She needs to set up early in the morning in order to secure a spot — two, in fact, to accommodate her RV — and feed the meters for hours before any customers even show up.

Support other businesses, support each other and things will happen.- Allyson House, Saucy Mouth Food Truck

"To stay and pay 2 meters all day, to have customers come at six, it just didn't seem like the best use of my time," she said.

Ballett, who's been running Scout for two years now, said the city could make it easier for her to operate.

She doesn't believe council or city staff are against mobile vendors, but rather that slow-moving bureaucracy hasn't kept up with the trends in business.

"Their hands are kind of tied in rules which have been in place for a long time and getting the rules to change is a big effort."

Hungry customers, too

Allyson House, the co-owner of Saucy Mouth Food Truck, went into business this summer in Bonavista. She brought her international-inspired rig to St. John's for the night market, which her company co-organized.

"We've built excellent relationships with other mobile vendors," House said.

The Saucy Mouth Food Truck set up shop outside the night market. (Sarah Smellie/CBC)

"We really feel there's enough business to go around and the model in Bonavista is a perfect example: support other businesses, support each other and things will happen."

Night markets in Mount Pearl earlier this year also garnered large crowds, but Ballett is not done experimenting with the format.

Her next project: a brunch market at Club One in downtown St. John's early next month.

With files from On The Go

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