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Will Fashion Trucks Be A Hit In Boston?

BOSTON (CBS) - Boston city officials are working on a licensing program to accommodate what could be the next wave after the food truck craze: A growing fleet of fashion trucks.

At least seven mobile fashion boutiques (list and links, below) have come forward looking for ways to legally do business on city streets, following an explosion in Boston food trucks.

For now, they've been paying meter fees instead of rent, dodging inspectors enforcing century-old regulations on street peddlers.

A licensing program would make Boston one of the first cities in the U.S. to carve out special space for fashion trucks, leapfrogging ahead of New York, where the food truck thing started four years ago.

In New York, "General merchandise vendors haven't seen the renaissance that food vendors have seen since 2007," said David Weber, president of the NYC Food Truck Association.

"It's still relatively the same variety of products from general merchandise vendors that there have been for a couple of decades."

Meanwhile, Boston's fashion truck vendors are like mobile retail labs.

Case in point: Green Street Vault.

Like larger innovators, they're training customers to buy now, expecting that a product they see this week will be gone by the next. They're currently collaborating with Boston designer Annie Mulz on an eight-week pop-up store at 252 Newbury St.

It's not big business.

"From my understanding some of these trucks could be making $1,000 a day," said Randi Lathrop, deputy director of community planning at the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

But new varieties of seed can grow fast. Just ask Clover Food Lab founders Ayr Muir and Rolando Robledo, who in three years and eight months have grown to nine food trucks and two restaurants.

You can't walk by a pretty outdoor space in this town without seeing a white Clover truck and a line of people waiting.

Lathrop, who's charged with helping hammer out a licensing plan that won't irritate rent-paying fashion retailers, told the BBJ Boston wants to explore putting fashion trucks off the beaten path – in neighborhood business districts like Dudley Square and Egleston Square in Roxbury and Jamaica Plain.

You don't have to be Stephen Karp to know that's a tough sell.

Fashion trucks need crowds of bag-toting shoppers. I like Egleston a lot. I live nearby, and I'm a volunteer board member at Egleston Main Street. We need a hardware store and a good neighborhood bar before we get a fashion truck.

But Newbury Street needs fashion trucks. High-rent districts breed homogeneity. If you don't believe me, come down to the Financial District some time for lunch. The three trucks on Dewey Square by South Station are a rare freshet in a desert of leaden subs and banal salads. Workers some of the city's largest employers deserve more choices at lunchtime.

Similarly, Back Bay shoppers – who could draw businesses like Uniqlo and Topshop to Boston – deserve to see something new.

I hope Mayor Thomas M. Menino won't miss this chance to make space at center stage for a good thing Boston has going.

Here are the seven Boston fashion trucks whose owners are working with the city on licensing, to date:

BGreen mobile showroom (Barry Greenstein)

Sneakerbox (Angela Schipano and Tiffany Crews)

The Fashion Truck (Emily Benson)

Vintagemobile (Amy Chase)

Green Street Vault (Howard Travis and Derrick Cheung)

Lola's Urban Vintage (Jude Lyons)

Boston Sports Apparel Company (Marlon Williams)

Lisa van der Pool of the Boston Business Journal can be seen weekdays at 6 a.m. on WBZ-TV.

You can follow Lisa on Twitter at @lvanderpool.


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