By JASON STARR
For years, ice cream vendor Beeb Gibeault gazed at Airport Park from her home across the street and imagined what a fine place it would be to set up her converted truckster to sell frozen treats.
“It was tempting,” she said, “but I didn’t go in.”
That changed this summer when she was given the chance through Colchester’s new vendor program.
For a $150 fee, Gibeault’s “Ding Dong Cart” has a monthly pass to sell at Airport and Bayside parks. Her 1963 Cushman, which won the Superintendent’s Choice award at this year’s Colchester High School classic car show, is as big an attraction for adults as her ice cream is to children.
Two other vendors, Mediterranean Mix and Mama Dogs Catering, have also become licensed vendors.
For Gibeault, who holds down a 9-5 job in addition to her ice cream business, June’s haul during evenings at Airport Park was just enough to cover the permit fee. Selling from the Burnham Memorial Library lawn during Monday’s July Fourth parade, she debated whether to continue for the remainder of the summer.
“It’s been tough, but it’s the first year,” she said. “I don’t get to the park until after 6 [p.m.] When I retire, I would love to be over there all the time. Then it would be worth it to pay the $150 every month.”
Parks and recreation director Glen Cuttitta acknowledges the program is a work in progress. The department charges a daily vending fee of $20 on weekdays and $25 on Fridays and weekends as a more affordable option than the monthly pass. There is also a non-refundable $100 application fee.
“We’re just kind of feeling it out right now,” Cuttitta said. “It’s still pretty new. We are learning as we go.”
Alicia Jacobs, a physician at Colchester Family Practice and member of the town’s Recreation Advisory Board, endorsed the policy of opening up the parks to commercial vendors. Previously, only nonprofits were allowed to sell food — groups like the Colchester Youth Baseball and Softball League and the Colchester Lions Club. Burgers and hot dogs were their mainstays.
“This is a way to help promote healthier options and maybe even more use of the parks, because if you can get a healthy meal at the parks, you can stay there longer,” Jacobs said.
Mediterranean Mix has developed a Colchester clientele through three years of selling at now-defunct Colchester farmers’ markets. Its mix of salads, eggplant parmesan, samosas and spanakopitas raise the bar.
The business had a full spread out for the Fourth of July and plans to set up at Bayside Park for the Thursday night concert series starting July 14.
The owners hope to open sporadically on other evenings in July and hope to rally support among produce vendors to revive a weekly farmers’ market in Colchester but said vendor fees are higher than other markets in the area.
Cuttitta said Mama Dogs Catering will fluctuate between Airport and Bayside parks on an irregular schedule.