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Thursday, June 13, 2024
HomeNewsArchivesMOBILE VENDORS ORGANIZER FINDS MANY UNMOVED

MOBILE VENDORS ORGANIZER FINDS MANY UNMOVED

Bruce Flemon, the president of the St. Thomas-based Mobile Food Vendors Association, came to Cruz Bay this week looking to organize. But as he quickly discovered, most St. John mobile vendors don't get around much any more.
"It's hard for me to go mobile," Arthur Hercules of Hercules Pate Delight said of his well-anchored modified kitchen van. "It's got no wheels, no engine. I was broke, so I sold my engine. So I have no choice but to turn it into a restaurant." Which, many would say, it already is, except on the government records.
Hercules was one of about a half dozen vendors who showed up Tuesday night at the vendors association meeting at the Legislature Building in Cruz Bay. The association was organized on St. Thomas in April when the Licensing and Consumer Affairs Department stepped up its enforcement on food stands that don't pack up and move at night.
And Flemon readily acknowledged that's something St. John vendors simply can't do. "We found out that 90 percent of the vendors on St. John are stationary and can't become mobile," he said.
Flemon is a retired Chicago firefighter who moved to St. Thomas and opened a grilled chicken stand on wheels. So far, he said, he has enlisted about a dozen members there, and together they've "chased" such events as the recent Tom Joyner Juke Jam and last weekend's calypso show featuring The Mighty Sparrow and Whadablee, both in Lionel Roberts Stadium.
It was his hope, Flemon said, to add at least 10 St. John vendors to his association membership, but right now he's looking at five or six. And among those are "formerly mobiles" – Hercules' wheel-less van, a year-'round Carnival booth and a roadside van with a canvas tent cafe.
Licensing and Consumer Affairs officials figured there were hundreds of mobile food vendors on St. Thomas. Association organizers think the number is much lower, discounting those who can't roll or be towed up the road.
Flemon pitched the idea of forming an association that would offer some of the protections and benefits of a union. For example, he said, vendors as a group could obtain affordable liability insurance, promote mobile food fairs and attract group discounts from food and beverage distributors.
Hercules said he thought Flemon "had some good ideas." But he added, "It could have been a better turnout."
On the other hand, Patrick Joseph, operator of Patrick's Native Delight, said he wasn't keen on joining the group. He said he felt those in the association were bringing in their own agenda. If St. John vendors were to organize, Joseph said, he'd be more open to a group formed by those on island.
Joseph said he has operated his business on the same spot for more than 20 years. If the government wants to make him do something about his mobile food stand, he said, it will have to meet him at the business and tell him what he has to do.
Licensing and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Andrew Rutnik announced in April that he would soon send compliance officers around to every licensed mobile vendor on St. John soliciting their agreement to comply with the conditions of their licenses or apply for regular restaurant license. Restaurants are required to have hot and cold piped water, electricity, a water heater and a restroom.
The stationary food stand issue has also come up on St. Thomas, Flemon said. He said he hopes to point the non-mobiles to help available through small business association programs.
To improve their lot through collective action, Flemon said, St. John's vendors would have to start thinking more about group interest and less about self-interest. "We're trying to get them to organize and get them to stop thinking, ‘What about me? What about me?' " he said.

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