Mobile retailers are popping up in trailers across the country.
This growing group of entrepreneurs who refuse to toe the traditional retail line have turned their retrofitted vintage trailers into mobile storefronts. The businesses are dedicated to selling everything from flowers and clothing to cigars and records. The model offers a chance to introduce a product or build a market without the same upfront investment as a traditional store.
This new trend in shopping has taken Walla Walla, Washington, by storm. The low overhead, flexibility, and overall fun of it have drawn merchants behind the wheels of Walla Walla’s roving retail establishments.
Owners in Walla Walla’s caravan of commerce say it may be possible to make a sustainable living with this business model. But so far all of them keep it extremely part time, which is part of the draw, according to a Walla Walla Union‑Bulletin news report.
This southeastern Washington community has seen pizzas, burgers, and even poutine sold from the windows of food trucks. Now comes candles, coasters, clothing, jewelry, home décor, and much more as the stable of mobile businesses grows.
With social media posts of their whereabouts fueling their following, they travel to events throughout the Walla Walla Valley — Love of Junk, Cottage on the Hill, the Country Store’s yearly parking lot sale, winery events, Wheelin’ Walla Walla Weekend — to set up and sell their wares.
The new kid on the block to Walla Walla’s store-on-wheels sect is Amanda Ewoniuk. She takes her traveling store, Re:Fresh, which she operates in a 1979 Nomad camper, wherever she wants it to go.
“It was the perfect opportunity for me,” Ewoniuk told the Walla Walla Union‑Bulletin, who transitioned from being a stay-at-home mom for 14 years to re-enter the work force.
“Having the trailer, I can go out and I can meet people and have fun doing it. But it’s not a brick-and-mortar store that I have to put in a certain number of hours a day. It allows me to do something creative and it also allows me to get out.”
A longtime refurbisher of furniture who finds creative pieces, Ewoniuk’s family history in construction and a love of antiques created an inlet to the business. In addition to furniture, she fills it with frilly tutus, a plethora of pink, intricate jewelry and Etsy creations — a reflection of herself as a mother of three girls.
Conversely, fellow seller Jessica Valentine Whiteside found the mobile retail model to be a way to expand her existing brick-and-mortar business. Whiteside, owner of downtown Walla Walla vintage and secondhand store Door Number Two, is able to bring her inventory to the masses, wherever they may travel.
About a half-dozen times a year, she converts her family Airstream into a showroom for her curated collections of dresses, blouses, pants, shoes, accessories, and more at various vendor gatherings.
For Shannon Smith McKeown and Catie McIntyre Walker — partners in a 1967 Fireball that houses Haulin’ Sass — the business fuels their shared passion for retail without requiring more commitment.
“To me, at this point, it’s just fun, and an escape.” said McIntyre Walker, who also owns the Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman shop and is in the midst of writing a book.
She refers to the business in a 17 1/2-foot camper as “a food truck without the calories.” It had been a longtime dream of hers and McKeown’s when a mutual friend found the camper.
With some cabinetry work from a cousin of McKeown’s in Dayton, a paint job from another friend and some additional work by McKeown’s husband, the camper was quickly ready for the road.
She figures she makes about half the inventory — scarves, coasters, her signature cookbook “Eat Eat Walla Walla” and more — and purchases the other half — signs, squeaky shoes for children, etc. McIntyre Walker adds her own selections of collectibles and fun wine memorabilia.
Another pair of vendors, Kimberly Miner and Tami Arias, are credited with bringing the urban mobile shopping experience to the Valley in its current form, reports the Walla Walla Union‑Bulletin. The longtime friends purchased their campers just days apart, then paired up in 2012 to set up their businesses in parking lots and at events with the required mobile vending permitting needed to get started.
The businesses are set up just like regular stores. They have bags. They provide receipts. They pay taxes. Still, it’s hard for people to always see them as such.
The mobile retailers have learned there is power in numbers. When the group of vendors — which includes Leanna Yenney Taylor’s Unhitched Boutique — moves in a pack, they draw bigger crowds.
No longer reserved for the ice cream vendor — or food trucks in general, campers and trailers are the new storefront for those who prefer a nontraditional approach.
If you do nothing unexpected, nothing unexpected happens.