Vying for attention

Portland State University needs to lower the cost of the outside vendor deposit to allow fair trade for vendors.

Every day vendors set up shop in the high-traffic sidewalks of PSU. It is commonplace to see booths for arts and crafts, cellular phones and socialist political groups within a 100-foot radius of Smith Memorial Center or Neuberger Hall. PSU rents out eight spaces to independent vendors or student groups for a $100 fee. Unfortunately, that fee causes a financial rift between the independent vendors and the larger nationwide companies.

Aside from the Saturday Market, there aren’t too many places in Portland with a consistent flow of people. The downtown retail district is home to many large name retail shops, such as Nordstrom’s and Saks Fifth Avenue, not to mention many canvassers and professionals on lunch break. However, there isn’t a place for the smaller crafts booths.

It is no wonder that businesses target the university. Part of the PSU charm is representative of the motto. It feels like a smaller academic community inside the hustle and bustle of the city. It is located right below the downtown center. The students are friendly, helpful and interested in their products. They can reach over 20,000 people in one week.

Unfortunately, the smaller vendors often lose money because of the $100 fee. Cellular phone retailers can get back the $100 fee in profits, sometimes just by selling one item. Student groups aren’t as lucky. The price tag of setting up recruitment or information booths can significantly reduce their total profit, and can consume membership dues in one day.

For the independent vendors, renting a booth at PSU is more expensive than the Saturday Market. The environment isn’t as friendly to these vendors, mostly because college students don’t usually have extra spending money. The customers at PSU are students, not arts and crafts fair patrons looking for clothes or jewelry.

It is nice that the fee goes back to the university. Specifically, it goes to Smith Memorial Student Union for operation and auxiliary fees. This obscures the distinction between profits and student fees.

The other big issue in the vendor issue is the distinction between campus and city areas. Vendors must be licensed by the city to rent space in the Park Blocks. The only spaces for PSU to rent are located between Smith and Neuberger Hall. The rest of the campus is only available for rent through Portland Parks and Recreation.

This seems contrary to the purpose of a state university. Schools should provide access to a more sophisticated and educated lifestyle. It’s impossible to do this if the fee to rent a table and two chairs for one day is $100. It is allowing the city to invade the university.

Finally, a conflict of interest exists between the vendors themselves. Independent crafts vendors don’t have several stores available for their goods. The $100 fee is unfair for the vendors who try to compete with nationwide sellers such as UPS and T-Mobile. Although most students have cellular phones, it is excessive to have vendors right on campus. There are several stores within blocks of the school, which should suffice for the multi-million dollar telephone industry. If a cellular phone company sells two phones, they have earned the deposit back.

The high price of renting one space is unfair to both vendors and students. It creates competition between student groups and larger corporations. If the price was lowered, independent vendors, student groups and conglomerates wouldn’t have to vie for students’ attention or worry about earning back their deposit. This way, knowledge would truly be allowed to serve the city.