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Published: Friday, 7/18/2008

Toledo cart food vendors squeezed

BY TED FACKLER
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Shaded by her cart's umbrella, lunch vendor Nikki Burado awaits customers outside the Safety Building. Shaded by her cart's umbrella, lunch vendor Nikki Burado awaits customers outside the Safety Building.
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A simple business is in difficult times. Just ask Nikki Burado.

Each day, over 200 customers saunter up to her lunch cart in downtown Toledo, ordering a $2.50 jumbo Polish sausage or 50-cent bags of chips. Sales can total nearly $800 a week, but Mrs. Burado said most of it is gobbled up by ever-increasing food and supply costs.

"They raise the hotdog [cost]. They raise the bun [cost]. But as everything rises, our prices stay the same," said Mrs. Burado, 31. She estimated her food costs have climbed 10 percent since last year.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Consumer Price Index, inflation for all food has risen 5.1 percent since May, 2007. Cereal and bakery product prices are up 10.5 percent, and juice and drink prices climbed 7.7 percent.

Fortunately for Mrs. Burado, pork prices are down 0.6 percent in the same time period. But she said she now spends $200 to $400 weekly on food and supplies.

Last July, her profits were $400 to $600 weekly. This summer, she said, she's lucky to break $300.

Karen Renerd, owner of Nick's World Famous Hotdogs cart, which operates at Levis Square downtown, agreed that rising food prices are taking a serious bite out of profits. "Food has gone up, propane has gone up, and ice is outrageous" at $4.25 a bag, she said.

Supplies now cost her $400 weekly, and she has raised her prices, she added. Plus, she spends over $550 annually for a vending license to sell at the location.

"You have to love [catering], have a passion for it, because it's a lot of work," Mrs. Renerd said.

Adding to cart vendors' problems: Potential customers are trying to save money as gas prices have pushed past $4 a gallon.

According to a survey of 755 workers conducted in May for Marlin Co., a workplace communication firm in Wallington Conn., nearly half of respondents had reduced their lunch food purchases.

Plus, online retailer eBag.com reported that sales of lunch bags and coolers jumped 39 percent this June over the same period last year.

Outside the Toledo Municipal Court, new cart vendor Michael Dixon, 31, was unconcerned about inflation and more workers packing lunches.

His hotdog and burger stand earns just over $70 daily, but Mr. Dixon said he is happy to have any business at all given his location. "If a person is going [to court] to pay $1,000 in fines, they probably don't want to buy a cheeseburger on the way out," he said with a laugh.

Contact Ted Fackler at:

tfackler@theblade.com

or 419-724-6199.



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