KINGSTON — Bowing to pressure from downtown business merchants, the Port of Kingston Board of Commissioners voted on Monday to suspend current mobile vendor applications until the community at large has a wider economic development discussion.
"How do we fit new businesses into the community," asked Commission Chair Walt Elliott. "We need a wider consensus than the three commissioners here."
Elliott, however, abstained from voting on the resolution, which was passed with Commissioners Marc Bissonnette and Pete DeBoer's votes.
Jessica DuMond presented her business plan for DuMond's Mini Doughnuts to the board in September, to rent two parking spaces for her mobile food stand. After discussion, the board voted to approve the "non-traditional use of parking," and gave DuMond the go-ahead to apply for the needed county and health code permits. DuMond had agreed to a yearly lease in the port's lot at Highway 104 and Washington Avenue, near the port's only current mobile vendor, the 104 Trolley. DuMond intended to open her business seven days a week.
Neither Elliott nor DuMond expected the critical reaction from downtown Kingston merchants. One business owner said DuMond's stand would be "skimming off the top" of local profits. Betsy Cooper of the Kingston Citizen Advisory Council said the port didn't publicize the available spaces or mobile vendor criteria well enough. Amy Anderson of Cup and Muffin and Paul Pluska of J’aime Les Crepes said they were concerned about unfair competition.
At Monday's meeting, Darren Gurnee, owner of Main Street Alehouse, presented the concerns on behalf of the businesses. The doughnut stand would have a lower cost advantage over brick-and-mortar stores; it would directly compete with existing businesses; and there are already vacant commercial spaces downtown.
DuMond started as an artist at the Kingston Farmer's Market on Saturdays, she said. The market is a wonderful venue, but is better for food, produce and craft businesses right now, she said. She had the idea to sell freshly-made doughnuts, but the market doesn't provide electricity to the merchants.
DuMond spoke with Clint Dudley, president of the Farmer's Market, and was advised to talk to the port about her options, she said. The port was supportive and had the space, trash, water and electricity options for her business, she said.
"I'm a mother, an unemployed woman," she said. "I saw a way to provide for my family."
Pluska also asked the port to open up their parking spaces for retail businesses at a competitive bid. Pluska recently submitted his own mobile vendor application, but the port has no available spots for lease.
Port Executive Director Kori Henry said she compared fair market value of other comparable leases to come up with the rental cost for DuMond's Mini Doughnuts. The Farmer's Market pays $.02 per square foot, while DuMond's rental of two parking spots would cost $1.75 per square foot.
"Location is everything," DuMond said, adding the available spaces downtown are too "off the beaten path" for a new business.
Many of Kingston's brick-and-mortar stores began as vendor businesses at the Farmer's Market, and new entrepreneurs need low-cost beginnings, Elliott said.
As a businesswoman, DuMond said she understands where the other businesses are coming from. However, Kingston has now become an unwelcoming atmosphere, she said; she is looking at other towns and Farmer's Markets for her business.
"We're not going to close shop and tuck our tails between our legs just because the bigger businesses say no," she said.
Colleen Carey, executive director of the Greater Kingston Chamber of Commerce, and County Commissioner Rob Gelder both encouraged a stakeholder meeting with the port, county and business owners to come to a consensus.
"We can't stop business from coming in just because they compete with the business already here," Carey said.