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Friday Oct 05, 2012

Mobile shops snared by Cape red tape

They are nomadic businesses, their wares transported in vans and trailers, to be sold anywhere and at any time.

But, while Cape Town may be at the forefront of many global trends, informal traders operating from caravans and trucks are running into red tape when it comes to setting up in the city.

Jessica Bonin began the Lady Bonin Tea Parlour two years ago to sell a wide range of imported organic teas. Her plan was to use a caravan because it could operate in many spots in the city. But even after years of sitting down and battling with the City of Cape Town to find a space for her caravan, she still hasn't had any luck.

"Phone call after meeting and still nothing has changed," she said. "There's nowhere for me to trade in the city."

According to Bonin, "old by-laws" are preventing her from moving around and operating in the city and have, ultimately, driven her out to Oudekraal where she operates as part of a market. She now owns a shop in Woodstock, but still wants to bring her caravan into Cape Town.

She said not being able to operate in the city means she is losing out on a lot of business, particularly with tourist season just around the

corner. She added that despite putting together multiple proposals and sitting down with city officials from the department of economic development, there has been no change to the by-laws.

"They told me that before I can operate in the city, the laws have to change and that can take anywhere between a few months and five years," said Bonin.

But a city official said the process wasn't on the backburner and they were focusing on accommodating operators like Bonin.

"The problem is she is asking to set up in specific areas which are prohibited. Either private owners on the street do not want her to do business there or there is not enough space on the street."

The official added they are actively tackling the issue but were running into problems which they planned to overcome. "So on the surface it seems like we have blinkers on."

Irvin Vandiar, pictured, owner of Durban's Finest Curry, sells homemade curry inspired by his mother's recipes from his trailer.

Three weeks ago he finally found a spot in the city, but he said it was far from ideal. He is operating from a private parking lot on Harrington Street, but this wasn't why he had decided to do business from a truck.

"I want to move around," he said. "I want to be able to set up in town in the morning and Signal Hill in the afternoon. I want to be where the customers are."

He said food trucks, as they are known across the world, are doing a roaring trade in places such as the US and the UK.

Their advantage comes from low overheads being translated into gourmet food at a fraction of the price. He said feedback from tourists and locals alike had been great.

"I don't understand why in Cape Town we are so far behind when we are usually at the forefront of popular trends," said Vandiar.

But he added that food trucks weren't the perfect outlet. He said the activities of food trucks needed to be carefully controlled.

"You can't just have trucks pulling up in front of restaurants and stealing their business and you also can't have them taking over pavements and streets," he said. "But in the end the pros outweigh the cons."

The city official said the authorities see the benefits of informal trading and are working on a plan that will formalise informal trading and ultimately benefit food truck operators.

"Informal trading contributes to the economy - so we want to get the ball rolling."

Business, Cape Argus

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