A group of Invermere businesses have begun voicing their concerns about an agreement between the district and street vendors they feel is encroaching on their profits.
The encroachment agreement, which has created some controversy among the local business community, is a document between the district and owners of street vending stalls operating on district property.
“My primary concern with the encroachment agreement is that vendors who come in to town to sell during the summer months are selling items that are identical to existing businesses,” said Yolande Dolman of River Gems. “I don’t have an issue with street vendors, but it would be nice to see them setting up things that are perhaps not represented by permanent store owners.”
Jurassic Gems, who were approved for a one-year encroachment agreement by the District of Invermere at the Tuesday, February 26th council meeting, sell products very similar to Ms. Dolman’s business.
“When we bought this store the vendor in question had already been approved last year,” she said. “At the time the store was for sale, and I didn’t know that the vendor had applied.”
In addition to the concern regarding product duplication, street vendors are not paying a fair rent in the downtown core, Ms. Dolman added.
“I think there are people in town that feel that street vendors add to the flavour and ambiance of Invermere and I think that’s fine, but it would be nice to see people contributing to things going on in town instead of taking their money back out of the area.”
Alita Bentley of the Invermere Business Committee has heard similar unease from other brick and mortar businesses in the community.
“The concerns are about paying more fairly so that there are monies collected from street vending booths that are fair to them to conduct their business, but also enough so that monies can go back to fix infrastructure like a bench or a crack in the sidewalk — whatever goes to the overall vitality and maintenance of the downtown.”
Ms. Bentley started in Invermere as a street vendor herself and is now owner of Be Gifted, a gift boutique on 7th Avenue. Although she is sensitive to the needs of local storefront operators, the businesswoman understands firsthand the trials that street vendors go through.
“In all fairness, I started out as a street vendor and it is definitely weather-dependent,” Ms. Bentley explained. “The town would not be able to collect the same type of rent from a street vendor as landlords can collect from brick and mortars because we have a fixed location that with rain or shine, we can conduct our business in.”
Despite the challenges of running a business affected by inclement weather, the $200 monthly rent that Ms. Bentley paid as a street vendor when she started eight years ago has not changed.
The $200 rent does not include the mandatory liability insurance that street vendors must post with the District of Invermere labeled as co-insured before they can sign off on an encroachment agreement, Mayor Gerry Taft said.
“That liability insurance can be a couple of thousand dollars for a full season if someone doesn’t have another business already,” he added. “When the policy (encroachment agreement) was first made in 2001, it was thought that there was going to be such an overwhelming number of requests that we would have to do a lottery system, but usually people try it for a year and then never come back.”
In response to the issue of street vendors offering similar products to brick and mortar businesses, Mayor Taft expressed concern that a sweeping policy may alienate vendors who have become fixtures in the community.
“The feedback at council was outlining a farmers market style criteria promoting locally-made products, but that also creates a bit of a challenge for the existing longer-term vendor who brings his stuff in from Bali or Indonesia and whether or not any changes in the rules affect him,” he explained. “We don’t want to discriminate and say that this person has to do local stuff and this person doesn’t.”
Council is consulting the local business community for input on a mutually acceptable solution, but will not be entertaining changes to the policy until next season.