Krista Anderson will sell you a hot dog at the corner of Main and Lady streets for $1.50, and for $2 more, she'll throw in chips and a drink.
"That's not a bad lunch," she said. "Who doesn't love a hot dog?"
Anderson is betting on the demand for cheaper lunch options as the economy continues to shrink the paychecks of Columbia workers. Her new sidewalk vending business, Krista's Hot Dogs, is one of six vendors Columbia City Council members have approved this year, and another four applications are pending.
The demand has swallowed up 10 of the city's 11 permitted sidewalk vending sites, to the delight of downtown development advocates, who believe the vendors' presence is evidence of the area's economic comeback.
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"With the exception of the Palmetto Center and SCANA employees leaving downtown, downtown office space is doing very well," said Matt Kennell, director of the City Center Partnership. "There are three new office towers on Main Street that didn't exist five years ago. The streetscaping has been completed, and the area is very attractive, which leads to more people hanging around and enjoying the atmosphere."
But the increase in vendors could also be a sign of Midlands' job losses. Anderson was a massage therapist when she first moved to Columbia last year with her husband, who is a nurse at Lexington Medical Center.
"It wasn't a great economy to be starting a new business doing that," she said.
She chose sidewalk vending not because downtown was booming, but because it was cheap to get started. No rent, just a business license and a hot dog cart.
It's the same reason David Roberts wants to sell tacos on the northwest corner of Main and Gervais streets.
"It will cost you a million dollars to get a franchise restaurant," Roberts said, but with sidewalk vending it cost "2,500 bucks, then you have to go to Sam's and get your food.
"It's definitely a small investment to get in."
For 16 years, Roberts worked as an accident investigator for the Nelson Mullins law firm before starting his own private investigation company.
In college, he helped open a Mexican restaurant in Columbia and since then has been full of ideas for restaurants. A trip to California recently introduced him to taco trucks, which use social networking Web sites like Twitter and Facebook to develop a following and broadcast their locations.
"I'm hoping they want something unique, not a hot dog," Roberts said.
Roberts said he already is learning lessons from Chris Hinely, one of Columbia's sidewalk vending veterans, who sells boiled peanuts at Lady and Washington streets.
Hinely's six-figure income disappeared after he and his wife lost their jobs last year. To get on his feet, he started selling boiled peanuts on Hard Scrabble Road.
Now, in addition to his Washington Street location, Hinely sells at festivals and has a catering service.
"He kind of taught me that you probably can't survive just on selling food out of a cart," said Roberts, who said he hopes to offer similar options with his taco stand.
Columbia's downtown advocates hope the vendors' presence will add a big-city feel to Main Street and help create an environment that is attractive to all kinds of businesses.
"When you visit a community that is busy, and the streets are busy, and you see people out, it gives the impression that there is a tremendous amount of vibrancy and business in that community," said Fred Delk, executive director of the Columbia Development Corp. "Anything that creates additional pedestrian traffic and interest in the city I think is a good thing."