Vending machine operator in residential Belleville, Ont. neighbourhood at risk of being shut down

The business is running on a property zoned for residential usage only, but those who use the business say it's been an essential resources for them over the last four years.

A Belleville, Ont., resident operating vending machines out of his driveway is fighting to keep the unsanctioned business operating.

Juan’s Vending Variety Inn sits on a quiet residential street, at 57 Octavia Street outside of Juan Hernandez’s home in Belleville. The small operation features seven machines that sell everything from toilet paper, milk and other essentials to tasty treats.

“I thought, ‘Oh, that’d be a great way to make some money without actually having to be there,'” Hernandez said.

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Now in its fourth year of operation, the business is at risk of being shut down due to various zoning bylaw violations.

“It’s in violation of the city zoning bylaw. So, the area of Octavia street is a completely residential street, a side street, and this homeowner has installed some vending machines along the side of his driveway. And he has constructed a shelter over them, which is also in violation of the Ontario building code,” said City of Belleville CAO Rod Bovay.

Bovay said Hernandez was warned when he first opened the business several years back that zoning would be an issue, but Hernandez said he never received that information.

Hernandez says this business, alongside renting two bedrooms in his home, has provided a necessary second income that ensures he can keep up with mortgage payments.

“It’s been helping a lot to cover the bills and the mortgage. I’m not getting rich. It just helps out a lot,” Hernandez said.

And he’s helping more than just himself.

“I’m his next door neighbour and, being disabled, it’s really convenient for me to come here and get all of the necessities that I need when I can’t always get to a grocery store or somewhere else where I need to go,” said Hernandez’ neighbour Sheri Sicluna.

“I don’t drive, my husband works nights. So if I need something, it’s there,” Rosemary Lynch, a regular customer, said.

“It’s been a homestead for the last four years, you know what I mean? Everyone knows where this is, everyone knows you can just pop in and get a cold drink. To lose this would be very devastating,” said another customer Courtney Brown.

Along with his machines, Hernandez has set up a microwave he says is meant for those who may not have access to hot food, even if that food isn’t from his machines. He also set up lighting and security cameras near the machines to deal with security concerns, although he says he’s never had any since opening.

Hernandez says his initial application for rezoning his property was rejected and is now seeking professional help in reapplying by the city enforced august 30th deadline. He also started a GoFundMe to help pay for the costs of the rezoning.

“I want to get everything that is needed to keep running my business. And because I’m just an ordinary guy I don’t know through all of the process that I have to do. So that’s why I’m looking for professional help,” he said.

Until then, the city has agreed to hold off charging Hernandez unless a rezoning application is not received.

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