'THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO WILL LOSE THEIR HOMES BECAUSE THIS WAS THEIR PRIME INCOME'
KELOWNA – The row of street vendors that have lined the walkway leading into City Park for more than 15 years will not be allowed back this year, and vendors say it will have devastating impacts on their families.
That decision was made earlier this year due to a lack of commitment and unsatisfactory performance, Festivals Kelowna executive director Renata Mills says.
“The writing has been on the wall for some time now," she says. "Last year we did a huge review and discussion with the vendors about making changes to make it more successful and we set some targets. The program didn’t hit the targets so we have changed directions.”
Mills says the main issue was getting commitments from the vendors.
“There was probably five, maybe six, of the artisans that showed up consistently,” she says. “But five vendors does not a program make when you have 20 spots.”
Elizabeth Ferstal has been selling handmade jewelry and dresses in the park for the last 15 years. She says the program could succeed if only the city would work with them instead of putting them low on the priority list.
"What the city is doing is cruel," she says. "They didn't give us any warning, no phone calls, no emails, nothing. We found out in May by word of mouth. Now there are people who will lose their homes because this was their prime income."
Cultural Services Manager Sandra Kochan says the city supports the decision to cancel the program, despite receiving a petition from vendors and the public who wanted to see the program get another chance.
“From the city’s perspective, what we were seeing from the program in recent years wasn’t consistent with a high quality experience,” Kochan says. “There were only a few vendors that were in the park regularly. We asked Festivals Kelowna to see what they could do to improve the program.”
The vendor program has been run by Festivals Kelowna since 1999 and in that time has gone through several changes to try and bolster public appeal, Mills says. It was originally called Art in the Park before the name was changed to Arts Alive. Last year it was rebranded again as the Artisan Market.
“We definitely understand there is some disappointment for some of the vendors who were committed to making it work but there just wasn’t a big enough group committing to regularly attending and showing up and creating the cool marketplace it could have been.”
Ferstal disputes the city's claim that vendors weren't committed to being there.
"The vendors were there. There were dozens of them every day when it wasn't raining or windy. The park always had vendors."
Although the vendors will no longer have daily summer access to the prime real estate along the water, Festivals Kelowna is planning to close off a block of Bernard Avenue on July 30 for something they say will have much broader public appeal.
“Arts on the Avenue is a reflection of the interest in the whole night market idea,” she says. “We’re going to feature very different kind of artists we’ve not had the opportunity to work with before. We want it to be funky and different and visual arts focused.”
Ferstal says the city's offer of one day a year is not nearly enough.
“They are giving us five hours at the end of July. One day out of the whole summer. Can you pay a mortgage with that? It’s an insult.”
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