Feel good about your information and become a local news champion today

Pop-up vendor pilot in Calgary parks falls flat

Vendors cited a variety of concerns about the three-month pilot project this summer.

City administration deemed a Calgary pop-up vendor pilot project unsuccessful, but the councillor behind it doesn’t mean the idea is dead.

In a briefing note included in Thursday’s Community Development Committee agenda, it showed that only 44 of a possible 312 vendor spots were occupied during the July 1 to Sept. 25 pilot project. It was a project, approved in March, that allowed vendors to pop-up in city parks.

Of the 18 vendors that participated in the project, only four were able to recover the $65 rental fee through sales revenues, city admin said.

“If extended, the program would cost the City approximately $150,000 annually to operate a program with low uptake and marginal benefits to participants and park users,” the briefing note read.

Even with free tents supplied, promotional signage and a social media campaign, 18 vendors participated in four piloted parks. The City received 74 applications, but 54 were unable to activate due to insurance liability requirements and Alberta Health Services permitting, the city said.

Coun. Kourtney Penner, who initially spearheaded the pilot program, said she heard about concerns from vendors and park users.

“One of the concerns I heard was that like the daily cost was too much and then the requirements for insurance,” Penner said.

In the city’s engagement portion of the pilot, revenue, communication, promotion and the locations were the top issues.  Two-thirds of park users said the vendors made their park visit more enjoyable, but only 25 per cent purchased or rented something.

“As a vendor who normally makes $1,500+++ at regular markets and events, I only made $25. I didn’t even make my vendor fee back,” wrote one respondent.

Evolution of the program

The pop up pilot ran in four city parks, one in each quadrant. South Glenmore Park (SW), Shouldice Park (NW), Prairie Winds Park (NE) and Valley View Park (SE).

Coun. Penner said that there’s an opportunity to re-evaluate the program and potentially address some of the flaws.

Things like the insurance aspect, or the AHS licensing are requirements from a legal standpoint. The insurance may be too much for a single vendor, in comparison with operating as a part of a group of vendors in a market-style set up. The insurance cost would likely be spread out among vendors.

“My takeaway is that the individual format doesn’t work,” Penner said.

“I think the only way we can iterate and evolve the program is to try something to start and then think about how we evolve it or could evolve it.”

Penner said a next step might be to strike a strategic partnership with some of the markets operating in Calgary to help limit vendors’ overhead.

The City’s also rewriting the Parks and Opens Spaces plan and there may be latitude to explore zones where licensed vendors could pop up.

“The idea is not dead. It’s just sort of working it in on a more strategic way,” Penner said.

The briefing note did mention the success of the Seasonal Vendor program, along with potential expansion. This program allows a single vendor to pick out a spot for the entire season and generate recurring business that way.

Briefing notes are a part of the public agenda, but they are not publicly discussed items during the committee meetings.