BY AEDAN HELMER, KELLY ROCHE
Brian Tinkess knows all too well about municipal regulations and red tape.
And how they squeeze people like him out.
For 13 years Tinkess owned and operated the Blooming Onion, a unique chip wagon in a prime location on the corner of Dalhousie and York St. in the Byward Market.
Two years ago, council passed a bylaw prohibiting him from staying there.
Jasna Jennings, executive director of the Byward Market Business Improvement Area, said restaurateurs made a lot of noise about outdoor food vendors siphoning business away from establishments paying top dollar for storefronts, and they took their case to the city.
But Tinkess sees things a little differently.
“This city is so over-regulated it’s obscene,” he said. “I always say, if you have a good idea, they’ll pass a bylaw against it.”
Tinkess, along with dozens of other vendors, took a petition with 800 names on it to a March 2009 committee meeting.
“The councillors took a look at it, heard what we had to say, then they passed their bylaw unanimously anyway. It was all lip service.”
The Blooming Onion — named the city’s best chip wagon for eight years running by the readers of XPress magazine and once singled out as a can’t-miss Ottawa destination by the New York Times — was soon relegated to a seldom-travelled stretch of York St. where his closest neighbour was a parking lot. His rent doubled.
“I used to have regular customers from Australia, from Japan. They would be here on business, and they’d tell me they’d get off the plane, check into the hotel and head straight to the Blooming Onion,” said Tinkess.
“Now, the Byward Market is the only place in the city where you can’t buy food on the street, even the hot dog vendors are gone.
“The city just bled me dry. I lost everything. Now I’m bankrupt — or I would be, but I can’t afford the $2,000 it costs to declare bankruptcy.”
Bogdan Wozniak agrees the city doesn’t make things easy for street vendors.
He runs the Canapola cart at the southwest corner of Sparks St. and Metcalfe St. with his wife Halina.
“This job is only for tough people,” said Wozniak, who’s been serving up hot dogs and sausages since 1988.
The Wozniaks have another cart one block away on Queen St. and a third on King Edward Ave. and Rideau St.
Dealing with the city’s red tape, he said, is stressful.
Cart locations are designated by the city and Wozniak said vendors aren’t allowed to sell their businesses.
“You can only transfer to family members,” he said.
Wozniak said he’s invested $50,000 in equipment and is frustrated that he can only make money by selling the equipment.
At the age of 60, he’s got at least five more years in the business.
“Who’s going to hire a 60-year-old-man?” he asked. “I think it’s very unfair.”
Between location and licensing, the fees are about $2,000 per season to borrow space on the sidewalk. On top of that, he shells out $500 for liability insurance and $300 for a propane inspection.
Wozniak said he was in the Market for about two years and isn’t crazy about being banned from there.
“I don’t believe this business affects restaurants,” said Wozniak. “This is for people in a hurry.”