Mobile Businesses Hitting High Gear
Slice Magazine | September 2015
Writer Jill Hardy
Photos by Shannon Cornman
Midtown’s H&8th, a monthly street festival situated at NW Eighth Street and Hudson Avenue, serves as a stellar example of how Oklahoma can take a common practice and put a unique spin on it. Not only is H&8th one of the region’s most popular street festivals, it’s become one of the largest in the U.S., regularly hosting thousands in what has, essentially, become a mini-village that pops up on the final Friday of each month.
Other food truck-based festivals abound – Edmond’s Heard on Hurd and Premiere on Film Row are two popular choices – and their standard dates have been staggered well enough that those who long for the atmosphere of a pop-up festival can find one on practically any given week of the month.
Food trucks alone can provide the base for any good festival, but the addition of mobile businesses to the mix arguably has built the Oklahoma street festival into its fully actualized self. The ability to walk around, listen to great music and browse through a few businesses – shopping for art or clothes, or playing games – extends the experience into something beyond standing and enjoying good food.
Oklahoma City’s large area and low population density make it difficult for many to experience some of the typical metropolitan benefits, like the ability to walk from your front door to a coffee shop, boutique, eatery or concert venue. Efforts have been underway for quite a while to beef up public transportation and make Oklahoma City more walkable, more amenable to outdoor activity and more district-focused, with some eye toward building more of that into our infrastructure.
But there will always be limits as to how much a city can change, and there’s much about Oklahoma City that’s fine the way it is. The ever-expanding list of street festivals (and their growing roster of mobile businesses) have given some of us a chance to condense our community once a month and get a taste of concentrated urban life, while giving some others a chance to test the waters of small business ownership, in an atmosphere with significantly reduced overhead and a ready-made audience.
The addition of Industry Flea – a booth market where vendors sell everything from vintage goods to old records, stationery or stuffed animals – to the H&8th event added one such opportunity maker, as well as the benefit of yet another chance to shop local, in a micro sense. But other independent mobile businesses have popped up as well, giving a depth to the street festival marketplace that not only illustrates its positive impact on the state’s culture, but possibly cements its status as a new fixture in our metro’s landscape.
We’ve highlighted a few stand-outs here, pop-up entrepreneurs and artists who are helping to build the local movement, and possibly adding to the phenomenon that has helped our wide-spread population feel just a little closer for a few nights a month.
The Struggle Bus
Sharing the Okie Essence
MaKayla Mattingly had been selling her art and T-shirts through booths at local fairs and festivals for several years when inspiration struck: Why not just develop a self-contained vehicle to peddle her wares?
Enter The Struggle Bus, Mattingly’s pale blue gallery on wheels. The moveable shop meant no more laborious breakdown and setup (welcome news for Mattingly’s father, who was helping her do both), and the ability to just pull up to any venue and open the door.
"I actually had the idea for the mobile shop when I visited some friends in Dallas,” Mattingly says. “Dallas has amazing festivals and parks where there are always food trucks and vendors out and about. Lucky for me, Oklahoma City is starting to become an awesome, artsy area much like [Dallas].”
Mattingly is encouraged by the rise in popularity of street festivals, and believes that it bodes well for her business.
“It’s very exciting to see that my style and mobile shop will fit in perfectly with things like Live! on the Plaza, Paseo Art Walk and H&8th,” she says.
And her style most certainly fits with any gathering of assorted Oklahomans. T-shirts and other items emblazoned with things like the old Indian Territory map, a dreamcatcher and a buffalo, or a single line from an old beloved song (“Mama Tried”), Mattingly tries to imbue her creations with a state pride that captures, in her words, “the essence of being an Okie.”