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MassArt students ride bicycles to peddle their artwork and clothing

Posted by Your Town  November 11, 2011 09:58 AM

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On a blustery November evening, two men sit down at a Brigham Circle Mexican restaurant. They are an awkward duo: one tall, sporting a shock of black hair and a Grizzly Adams beard, the second of a different era, clad in a neat, checkered blazer and topped off with a leather fedora.

Over a war zone of tangled tin foil and wayward black beans, the two quickly strike up conversation. To an eavesdropper, their tales of busted bike parts and missed days on the road seem cliché college banter.

But the two aren’t just lamenting their bad luck. They’re talking business.

Pat Peltier and Justin “The Pants King” Pomerleau are two of the newest young entrepreneurs in Boston -- their businesses driven, quite literally, by their bicycles.

The Massachusetts College of Art students put a new spin on the food cart boom that has swept through the city, hawking artwork and clothing across the area with two separate bicycle-propelled carts. Peltier’s “The Fresh ©art” and Pomerleau’s “Le Pants King and the Voyage Spectacular” operate as separate entities, but both embrace a common goal: To bring local art to the Boston community.

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“It’s a growing movement because of its simplicity and ingenuity,” said Peltier, a senior animation major. “It’s a way for a person with a good idea to get their idea out there.”

For Peltier, 21, that good idea was born four years ago, on a school trip to Mexico.

“All of the markets were on blankets, and people were selling stuff from rickshaws,” remembered the Fresh ©art founder. "I liked the idea of a business not taking up so much permanent space. You can have all your work on your bike.”

He used that business model and the handiwork of a friend to construct a bicycle-powered cart that would allow him to hawk his goods – chiefly, his own hand-embroidered T-shirts and pottery -- around the city.

Pomerleau, meanwhile, had a different motivation.

“I wanted a kind of performance,” explained the senior Interrelated Media major, also an aspiring actor. “I want people to like the look of it, as kind of avant garde. It’s a great way to get your name out there and have people learn your business on a personal level.”

At first, Pomerleau, 23, wanted to ditch the bicycle part of the scheme altogether, thinking that he would just push a rack of his vintage clothing down the street. Deciding that wasn't practical, he worked with his father at their family transmission shop all summer to create a chic traveling armoire for his handpicked vintage garments. In August of this year, Le Pants King and the Voyage Spectacular was born.

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Though they differ in their tastes, both cart-minders have a keen eye for selling, scouting out hotspots around the city to set up shop. After securing their Hawkers and Peddlers Licenses from the city, they moved quickly to find prime retail locations, agreeing that Newbury Street and farmer’s markets tended to yield the best business.

“People are just looking to buy [on Newbury Street],” said Peltier. “And farmer’s markets are nice because people…are usually all about supporting local business, like us.”

But even at these key locations, business can be sporadic.

“If people aren’t used to you being there, they probably won’t buy the first time,” explained Pomerleau. “It takes two, maybe three times before they buy. It’s a waiting game.”

In addition to inconsistent sales, the cart owners also deal with dangerous traffic patterns and traveling up big hills. These inconveniences could prove costly, as one mis-pedal could ground their respective businesses for good.

But despite the potential dangers and the physical strain of biking their shops to work several times a week, the two say their street selling is rewarding.

“We’re young and in school, and we want to just do it,” said Peltier. “We don’t have time to get a loan and find a store to set up shop. I think the mobility is the key.”

Their hustle mentality has not gone unnoticed, piquing the interest of their peers. Peltier has bolstered the Fresh ©art’s offerings -- describing his business as a “community cart”, he sells other Mass Art artists’ goods, such as Mary Remington’s pottery.

“As a student who is interested in distributing my art around. . . this provided a great way to get my stuff out to the community and get some feedback,” said Remington, a senior ceramics major.

According to Peltier, Remington’s work was so well received that her entire pottery collection was sold in one day.

Peltier and Pomerleau recently set up shop in a gallery on campus and showed off their wares to the student body. “It was a great way to end the season,” said Peltier. The response was overwhelmingly positive, both sellers said.

As the cold weather moves in, both cart-tenders will shut down selling operations, move indoors and begin planning for the next season. For them, winter is a chance to restock, rebuild and reevaluate their business models.

“This was a dry run, a practice run, to see what I need to do for next time,” explained Pomerleau. “The ultimate goal is to upgrade," meaning expanding his collection of vintage fashions and designing some of his own clothing.

Peltier simply wants to restock –spinning more original pottery and developing more clothing pieces to replace what he has already sold.

Both say they take satisfaction in finding new ways to spread their art in the community.

“I love seeing someone on the street and talking to them. It’s so much easier than doing it in the store,” said Peltier. “It’s so refreshing to talk to people about what you’re selling."

This article was reported and written by Northeastern University journalism student Kade Krichko, under the supervision of journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel (l.chedekel@neu.edu), as part of collaboration between The Boston Globe and Northeastern.

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