Main St. vendors fight for business
On warm spring days, scents of pickle relish, mustard and hot dogs hang in the humid air in front of Hanover's Town Hall.
The scents come from an area filled with a maximum of four hot dog and jewelry stands on Main Street each day. But despite their continual presence on Hanover's main strip, several vendors expressed discontent with the town's policies for regulating their sidewalk capitalism.
Dick Clapp, the owner and salesman of Sundogs, has been in the street vending business for almost 10 years. Over the years, he has encountered thousands of people while selling food in all seasons.
"I guess my favorite part of the job is meeting the vast array of people, especially tour groups from other countries," Clapp said in his soft voice.
According to Clapp, customers come from an even mix of College students, tourists, people who work in town and high school students.
Richard Byrner runs a joint hot dog and unique jewelry stand 10 feet from Clapp's stand. He imports most of his jewelry from Nepal, India and Native American reservations in New Mexico. During the winter holiday season, he braves the cold weather and sells imported clothing, such as Alpaca sweaters and vests from Nepal.
Despite what appears to be as easy as wheeling in a hot dog cooker and setting up an umbrella, running a street stand in Hanover is actually competitive and frustrating, the vendors said.
According to Theresa Leavitt, secretary to Town Manager Clifford Vermilya, the town leases three spots in front of the Hall for three-month periods. Entrepreneurs bid for the spaces in a lottery. In addition to those spaces, another permit is auctioned off every day for the next day.
Several of the vendors said the town's policy is unfair and illogical.
When asked about town policies for regulating vendors, Byrner, who only has a one-day stand, reeled around in laughter.
"The [regulations] make no sense at all. They're formulated by a bunch of fools who seem to like to drive businesses out of business. They are upscaling this town to death," he said.
His friend and business partner, Robert Leighton leaned casually against the stand and added, "The motley crew that runs this town couldn't do a better job of running businesses out of town if they tried to. If I wanted to clear out a town, I'd hire them all."
Vermilya said the town's policies make sense. "We have had vendors for years, and we will continue to have vendors. But we don't believe that we owe every vendor a spot," he said.
Clapp, who leases one of the three-month spots, said he sees no problem with the current allotment system.
"I think it's adequate right now with the competitive bids," Clapp said. He said his business is profitable.
Leighton and Byrner also said some of their anger stems from unfair business practices run by Town Hall. According to the vendors, Town Hall favors Hanover's larger businesses.
Byrner said Town Hall is dedicated to making the town more upscale, and he is vocal in his discontent. Whenever town officials walked by, Byrner heckled them.
"The people who are losing are not just the vendors, but also the public," Byrner said. "They're not getting what they want ... This is a dying town ... people have no incentive to go to Hanover."
Street vendors "pay three times the rent per square foot than other businesses," Byrner said. "They claim they want to try to attract street vendors, but they are making it as difficult as possible."
Vermilya strongly denied Byrner's claims. "That's absolutely not true ... I know [Byrner] feels persecuted but we have to enforce the ordinance," Vermilya said.
Byrner said he used to enjoy his business when it was more profitable. But he said he will soon switch to selling jewelry exclusively. He said jewelry is more profitable, and said "three food vendors in this space is way too much."
Byrner said customers "used to line up" at his stand. But that was before the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center moved to Lebanon, and the town began to encourage upscale businesses, he said.