’Give us a break,’ say traders

Ann Hodgkinson and her sister Kim Schapiro in their coffee truck.

A couple who lost their income due to Covid-19 and then had a coffee stand they ran from their home closed by the municipality say a lack of trading bays in Fish Hoek threatens their livelihood.

Capucine Thomas and Ann Hodgkinson moved to Fish Hoek recently from Johannesburg with their two young sons. They have a travel agency, but they have been surviving off their savings since the business stopped making money when the pandemic hit last year.

Needing another way to make a living, they bought a coffee truck and registered on the City’s online informal-trading system in February. But they were told that no trading bays were available

The couple say they made many enquiries but had little feedback from the City. However, they claim they were told by a City official, during one of their many enquiries, they could trade from their own property.

“We thought this was ideal while we waited to get a trading bay. We had the space and we could start trading immediately,” said Ms Hodgkinson.

They parked their truck, The Good Coffee Co, in their front yard facing Disa Circle. A high school pupil supplied them with home-made brownies.

“We had overwhelming support from the community, and it was so much fun to get to know the people around us. People would buy a cup of coffee, and the dogs were excited to get their daily doggie treat from the trailer,” said Ms Hodgkinson.

They ran a loyalty card system, where the 10th cup of coffee was free and many customers paid their free cup of coffee forward. Some, Ms Thomas said, would pay for two cups of coffee and they could give the second cup to anyone who needed it.

But not everyone liked the coffee truck, and law enforcement gave the couple notice in May to stop trading from their home.

“We were told that people had complained, and so we decided to stop trading immediately as we didn’t want to do anything illegal, and we didn’t want to create bad energy at our home,” Ms Hodgkinson said.

They had then learnt that they could only trade from their property if it was a “home shop” that was part of the house or if the property was rezoned – something they couldn’t afford, Ms Hodgkinson said.

“We had to think out of the box to support our family, and all we wanted was for the community to be open minded in this difficult time. There are so many people trying to just get by every day, ” Ms Hodgkinson said.

Ms Thomas said they would ideally like a trading bay at the beach or the civic centre, but they had been unable to get a straight answer from the City.

Following the closure of their truck, they traded at Fish Hoek Pre-Primary School’s market day and were then invited to trade on school property. However, business has slowed down due to the early school closure and the adjusted level-4 lockdown.

Jenna Harwood, of Capri, stopped at the trailer every morning on the school run. “We are big supporters of Ann and Caps and they have built such a special relationship with our son, Camden,” she said. “He loved visiting them every morning. They brought people together and children and adults would wave at them as they drove around the circle.”

Another regular, Terry Smith, said stopping at the coffee trailer for the “great coffee and brownies” and conversation had been the highlight of his day. “It is a shame that they were reported for trying to make a living,” he said.

Fish Hoek Pre-Primary School principal Paula Wickham said she was happy to host the couple. “We are a community school, and we are happy to help the community. It is also very convenient for our teachers who come to school early to be able to enjoy a good cup of coffee,” she said.

Another resident, Leigh Palmer, said she had also been unable to find an available trading bay in Fish Hoek after registering with the City, despite many of the bays being empty.

“The entire informal trading scenario in Fish Hoek is a joke. It’s poorly managed and lacks transparency. For most traders or those interested, their lively-hoods depend on being able to trade,” he said.

A City official, not authorised to speak to the media, said the City had not yet advertised any bays recently in Fish Hoek due to the recent review of the Fish Hoek informal trading plan.

“Once the post-review process has been completed, available bays will be advertised and interested parties can apply,” she said.

Mayoral committee member for urban management Grant Twigg said registering on the City’s informal trading portal did not not automatically mean someone had applied for a bay. The application only happened once the registration had been done.

There was nothing the City could do to help traders in the meantime as the informal trading by-law and policy made no provisions for temporary applications, he said.

The mobile trading bay at Fish Hoek Beach next to the Law Enforcement office, he said, was contractually occupied. Informal beach trading was, in essence, a seasonal activity and during off-season the traders were not required to be there to keep the bays.

“They are only required to be there six days a week during peak season in December/January. Beach trading permits had a three-year cycle and during the last year of the cycle, the City advertised for new applications,” he said. Application forms are available at the beach offices and on the City’s website.

The trading bay at Fish Hoek civic centre was available and would soon be advertised, Mr Twigg said.

Camden Harwood and his dad, Johan, at The Good Coffee Co truck.
The jar of doggy treats for furry customers.