Nolan Irwin’s popsicle cart could be missing from Harrison’s beachfront this summer, if council decides to go ahead with a clause in the proposed business licence bylaw that would ban mobile vendors.
“This is my job right, and this is the job I did that last two years,” Irwin said, choking up as he spoke to the Harrison council Monday (April 1). “I did enjoy it and I would like to keep doing it.”
Third reading for the proposed business licence bylaw was the only item on the agenda for council that night, and included a number of changes from the bylaw in previous years. In the proposed bylaw, buskers and pop-up shops would be banned from the village, except during sanctioned events, as would mobile vendors.
Under the current bylaw, Harrison businesses can apply for one of three mobile vending licences, which allows them to operate on the beachfront. For the past two summers, Irwin has been the only one to use this mobile vendor licence, partnering with the Harrison Steakhouse to set up his popsicle cart at the beach.
(Irwin said the steakhouse was no longer in business, and he would have to partner with another local business if he was to continue this year.)
“Many people said to me things like ‘You should play some more music or have flashing lights,’” he said. “But I said, ‘These are the rules, I’m not supposed to do that. I’m very proud of what I do and I don’t want to break those rules.’”
Irwin was emotional during his presentation to council, choking up during his speech and interrupting councillor Gerry Palmer at least once during council’s discussion of the bylaw.
“I was going to say something sympathetic to you, but I’m feeling less inclined,” Palmer said after Irwin interrupted him.
Palmer went on to say that he is supportive of local businesses on the waterfront strip, and that he had some concerns about mobile vendors, but said Irwin’s situation “does seem harsh, when it’s been there.”
“I’m not sure how one can proceed and work through that,” Palmer said. “I have gone from feeling very strongly that the change is good to at least wavering that it does create unnecessary unfairness.”
Councillor Michie Vidal, however, was firm in her belief that mobile vendors should not be allowed in the village.
“To permit mobile vendors and grant them licences, it could very well result in direct competition with our established businesses,” she said. “These businesses do rely on the short season to operate to their maximum. These businesses also pay rent or lease, which contributes to the commercial property taxes at a substantially higher rate than the residential taxes.”
“I support the ban on mobile vendors because I do believe its in the best interest of the village in the bigger picture,” she added.
Councillors Ray Hooper and Samantha Piper did not comment on the proposed business licence bylaw.
Although Irwin was perhaps the most passionate, he was not the only one to address council on the proposed business licence bylaw. Harrison resident and business owner John Allen also spoke before council. His concerns were mostly clerical in nature, but he spoke strongly about the phrase “may be enforced” as he felt it allowed the village to target “low-hanging fruit.”
“Nobody in the village goes out to (construction) sites and asks the various trades … if they’re licensed,” he said. “I resent the fact that the village goes after the low-hanging fruit and the easy target like me, and makes me pay a business licence, but allows … all the trades building that house across the street without any business licence.”
Only Palmer responded to that particular concern, noting that the criminal code says offenders “may be charged” and changing the statement to an obligation could create problems.
Although there was some discussion on Allen’s other clerical concerns — the definition of an unsanctioned event, for example — and the role of busking in the community, most of the comments centred around the mobile vendors.
Mayor Leo Facio added some of his comments on mobile vendors during question period, saying that the first vendor had come to Harrison around 1994, but years later vendors had left because tourists brought “everything but the kitchen sink” to the beach.
“He gave it up because it wasn’t worth his time or his effort to do that,” Facio said. He also added that “there are businesses in the community that do have a problem with vendors on the street,” saying that “unsanctioned vendors” have set up on the street in the past.
“It was very difficult … to move them along.”
At the end of the meeting, council did not give the business licence bylaw third reading. Instead it has been referred back to staff for some wording changes and possible clarification on what a “sanctioned event” really is. There was no indication on what, if anything, would be done about ban on mobile vending in the proposed bylaw.
The bylaw will come back before council on April 15.