Mobile vending should be considered as part of revitalization efforts

Please consider printing this letter in the Sylvan Lake News:

Dear Editor,

Please consider printing this letter in the Sylvan Lake News:

Mayor McIntyre and council members,

Regrettably I am unable to attend the March 23 open house regarding the Mobile Vending Pilot Project; however, I am happy to take this opportunity to share my thoughts.

My husband and I are property owners offering commercial rental spaces at 5002A, 5002B, and 5004 – 50 St. as well as 5006 and 5008 – 50 Ave. in Sylvan Lake. Of the five-thousand square feet of space, presently 50 per cent is leased with the remaining 50 per cent vacant.

Like many downtown communities, Sylvan Lake’s downtown and waterfront areas are experiencing increasing competition from online sales, urban sprawl and big-box stores.   Consumers’ spending habits are shifting and there is no reason to believe this trend should slow.

Increasingly, consumers are expecting more of a “shopping experience” in downtown areas. It has become a reality that retail businesses and downtowns need to evolve to attract and retain customers.

Over the past several years, my husband and I have travelled through a great number of villages and towns throughout Canada and the USA. We travel in the shoulder season to avoid the crowds. Whenever we have encountered a vibrant downtown, we have made a point of making observations and questioning storefront owners, restauranteurs, locals, cab drivers and occasionally a local Chamber of Commerce representative as well as municipal employees about the efforts and initiatives that they felt were contributing to successful revitalization efforts.

Generally, we discovered the following:

● Most towns had experienced a downturn whether they were tourist destinations are not.

● The downtowns that appear to be experiencing success in their revitalization efforts have also managed to unite the stakeholders (business, property owners, Chamber of Commerce and the Municipal Government) and are using a collaborative approach to revitalization.

● Business and property owners often have formed downtown organizations to encourage collaborative efforts and partnering.

● GAP assessments and consumer surveys were often cited as useful tools to create local, “homegrown” solutions.

● The stakeholders seemed to understand that a “positive atmosphere”, a “good vibe”, “atmosphere”, “activity”, “friendliness” and “great service” were imperative attributes, and quite possibly more important than being able to offer a great variety of retail and service offerings. This seemed particularly true in their efforts to attract and retain the local resident as a consumer.

● Healthy competition was recognized as a plus. Examples: restaurants, pubs and coffee shops locating within close proximity of each other to create a hub; or galleries and studios together to create an arts district.

● Mobile vending, weekly street fairs, sidewalk sales, art walks, and busking were prominently utilized as attractants, to create interest and activity, and increase pedestrian traffic.

● Mobile vending was viewed as the quickest way to increase the variety of offerings in a given area.

● Mobile vending was often used within close proximity of neighbouring eateries to create a hub of eating and dining options.

● Although the hub atmosphere and diversity of offerings initially attracted us to the areas, it was the quality of food, the offerings of a menu and table service which ultimately had us eating in the restaurants significantly more often than patronizing the mobile vendor.

● The quality of the food and service in these hub areas was often of very good to excellent caliber and was frequently priced accordingly. (Perhaps a little healthy competition encourages everyone to step up their efforts).

● And, off-season and shoulder-season festivals are sometimes utilized to retain the local residents’ customer loyalty and to encourage the residents “ownership” of their downtowns.

Additionally, mobile vending often provides employment for young people. It can provide business experience for new entrepreneurs. It occasionally serves as an opportunity to incubate a business idea or test new products in the marketplace.

Based on the information I have been able to gather, combined with what we were able to witness, we believe that mobile vending should be considered as part of our revitalization efforts.

We believe that bringing our resident consumers back to our downtown and waterfront areas helps businesses thrive in the busy season and do more than just survive the off season. Visitors and tourists will shop and eat where the locals shop and eat. Increased revenues mean more business success stories and attraction of new businesses to the area creating greater interest in vacant spaces.

Colette and Larry Barker,

Sylvan Lake