Mobile retail gets chance to succeed

Penticton is improving the locations offered for mobile retail vendors.

Penticton is improving the locations offered for mobile retail vendors.

City staff suggested making two changes to the pilot program approved in March, adding a possible location at Power Street and Lakeshore Drive along with two spots in the newly constructed Gyro Hub, next to the park.

That location was specifically excluded from the original pilot project, but two mobile vendors hoping to enrol told staff the spots being offered would lead to conflicts with food trucks and lacked significant walk-by traffic, particularly the Skaha Lake Park locations.

Despite a letter from the Downtown Penticton Association opposing the concept, city council voted in favour of the improved locations with only Coun. Judy Sentes in opposition.

Sentes said the DPA welcomes retail trucks at the Saturday community markets, but see them as unfair competition at any other time.

According to the DPA letter to council, retail trucks don’t add to the economic development of the downtown. They take parking away, don’t hire locals and don’t pay property taxes that fund infrastructure improvements.

Mayor Andrew Jakubeit, whose family owns and operates the Grooveyard on Main Street, tried to put the tax issue in perspective.

“Bear in mind that they are paying a significantly higher business licence fee ($1,800 annually),” said Jakubeit. “Per square foot, they pay an obscene amount.”

Jakubeit also said the trucks operate with a much smaller floor space than a bricks and mortar store.

“You certainly can’t display as much merchandise,” said Jakubeit.

Coun. Campbell Watt said he understood the concern and resentment of shop owners, but suggested it might be overstated.

“People attract people. If you’ve got a mobile vending truck selling clothing next to your clothing store, doesn’t that just bring more people to your store? A mall doesn’t allow one clothing store, it allows multiple,” said Watt.

The point of the pilot project, he said, was to give the vendors the best chance to succeed they could have. Adjustments, including taxes, can be made after seeing the results of the pilot project.

“After a year, if the merchants have such a bee in their bonnet about taxes, then let’s tax the vending trucks the same,” said Watt. “To stifle these vendors up front and not give them a full chance to succeed, I believe, is unfair.”

Coun. Helena Konanz said competition would be good for downtown, for all the retailers.

“Let’s be experimental here. We don’t have a lot to lose. There are a lot of times our downtown is really quite empty,” said Konanz.

Jakubeit reminded council that the DPA’s community market was a response to the Penticton Farmers’ Market limiting which vendors could participate.

“It’s very easy to get behind this sort of protectionism and the fear of the unknown,” said Jakubeit.

“I think having a busy hub helps all people and having more options, more activity downtown is a good thing.”

Penticton Western News