Vendor Wars in Seward?

Customers buy from Mark T's Boombai Thai on a private parking area owned by Tom Tougas, while Phu Ngo hangs out the welcome mat for those up for delicious international Rickshaw food. Heidi Zemach photo.

Customers buy from Mark T’s Boombai Thai on a private parking area owned by Tom Tougas, while Phu Ngo hangs out the welcome mat for those up for delicious international Rickshaw food. Heidi Zemach photo.

By Heidi Zemach for SCN –

Food and craft vendors start your engines! The race is on!

The City of Seward has begun an interesting experiment to make certain unused city lots and rights of way available for private enterprise during the tourist season and beyond. That, despite the fact that no commercial food, craft, or wood vendors were actually banging down their doors asking for it. The application process allowing up to four mobile vendors and some transient “roving” vendors to operate on city properties in town from May 1 to October 31st, and at Seward Marine Industrial Center till the end of the year opened Monday, June 16th.

To be approved for a permit, prospective vendors must pay the city a $250 permit fee, and filing costs another $50, nonrefundable. Information must include a Certificate of Insurance, photos of their proposed operation, proof of a City of Seward business license, and a waste management plan. Permits will be processed and issued within 30 days on a first-come, first served basis.

The idea for the ordinance, which was amended before being passed the council May 27th was created at the suggestion of Council member Dale Butts, a former Planning and Zoning Committee member. No vendors testified at the second public hearing prior to approval of the ordinance, although Mark Techenbrock who runs the Boombai Thai van, made some helpful suggestions and observations earlier at a council work session.

The handful of mobile vendors that already operate in Seward, including Teckenbrock, and Phu Ngo, of The Rickshaw, who also offers Thai as well as Vietnamese and Hawaiian rickshaw soul food cuisine, have found satisfactory locations on private property owned by Tom Tougas, south of the Small Boat Harbor. By all accounts they aren’t competing, but rather are enjoying one another’s company, sharing trade secrets,  and they  intend to remain there for the season.

Meanwhile, vendors selling bundles of wood, fresh fruit and vegetables from Washington State, or a man selling wild frozen shrimp and Kodiak scallops, have also generally used private lots. Another vendor who sells his son’s meat jerky and smoked salmon has established himself at some prime out-of-town Seward Highway locations.



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Phu Ngo prepares tasty dishes in his "Rickshaw" in parking lot on Fourth and the corner of Van Buren. Heidi Zemach photo

Phu Ngo prepares tasty dishes in his “Rickshaw” in parking lot on Fourth and the corner of Van Buren. Heidi Zemach file photo

It remains to be seen whether new entrepreneurs will ruthlessly compete for the few designated city lots under the city’s more restrictive terms, or will continue to seek out private landowners, perhaps in more favorable locations.

The city is offering  two 10 by 20-foot  locations at Waterfront Park, along Ballaine Blvd between Jefferson and Madison Streets; two similar size locations in the South Harbor Uplands area; another one on Washington Street downtown, and two remaining 20 by 20- foot sites off Nash Road at Seward Marine Industrial Center, one at Morris Avenue, the other near Jellison Avenue. They’re to service the state prison employee population and growing industrial area users.

Facing or fearing criticism from struggling local business owners who would prefer not see additional competition from seasonal vendors who live outside the community, and prospective vendors who would have Seward encourage private enterprise, the council worded the code to limit vendors from setting shop at prime locations, and reduce competition with established businesses. They excluded the vendors from the majority of the touristy Small Boat Harbor area, along Fourth Avenue between Van Buren and Port Avenue, and also from Seward’s main commercial district down town, along Fourth and Fifth Avenues between Jefferson Street and Railway Avenue, with only one exception—Washington Street. Although there were seven city parcels selected, they opted to only allow four mobile vendors to operate on those areas, as a test. They deliberately made the permit and application fees high to discourage certain less-serious vendors. Council member Iris Darling, of Brown and Hawkins’ Sweet Darling’s, voted against the ordinance change, as she does not want additional seasonal competition for year-round downtown businesses.

Mobile vendors also may only sell food and/or non-alcoholic beverages, handicrafts, artwork, jewelry or similar goods or Firewood. They may not attract customers by hawking or “physically accosting them, nor can they impede the free movement of automobiles or pedestrians within their permitted lot or space. They can only operate on public property from 6:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m.

Roving vendors may not sell from any public street where the legal speed limit exceeds 25 miles per hour, or on Fourth Avenue between Port Avenue and Van Buren Street, and they too can only operate between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m., but not on the most busy time of the year, the July 4th Mount Marathon weekend, where other rules and condition apply to vendors.

As of Tuesday afternoon no vendors had applied, but there had been a few interesting phone inquiries to the Planning Department earlier by someone local looking into the possibility of opening a reindeer sausage stand in Seward, and another by a person wanting to bring in live reindeer (Caribou) as a tourist attraction, said Seward Planning Technician Dwayne Atwood.

 

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4 Comments

  1. bob.alaskan says:

    Mark Teckenbrock and Phu Ngo are most definitely not at war with one another. It is actually quite opposite. In fact, they believe that the more food trucks parked in that area the more customers will come to eat. Like the business practice preached by Mr. Tom Tougas, a solitary gas station on the corner may do well, but when two other gas stations open up on the same corner it becomes a happening area and the businesses will flourish. That same dream is in mind for Mark and Phu, who regularly send customers and friends to one another, as well try each other’s dishes. Don’t get me wrong, I like the spotlight and the article, but I just want to clear it up. Phu and Mark are friends who are working together to achieve a common dream, they are comrades not enemies.

  2. Heidi Zemach says:

    I believe the article said that Mark and Phu are getting along and doing fine on Tom Tougas’ private lot. The headline referred more to fears expressed by City Council over potential competition for the few city lots available, and concern over disgruntled business owners who did not wish to see competition by vendors, which has occurred in the distant past.

  3. Hey Heidi, thanks for clearing that up. The title had me confused is all. Appreciate your coverage!

  4. Mark and Phu are just getting down with Hotelling’s Law, an economic idea that explains why gas stations are located on adjacent corners, McDonalds is often across the street from Burger King, and Oriental Gardens is located right across from Peking.
    Read more about it here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hotelling%27s_law

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