Suzanne Southard (L) and Tiffany King (R) of SouveNEAR vending machines.

Women-owned company keeps art-vending machines in airports


Like so many things in travel, airport vending machines have evolved. Once merely an off-in-the-corner spot for soda and candy, modern day “automated retail” machines at airports now dispense everything from Legos, fresh salads, cupcakes and gourmet coffee drinks to diapers and dog treats. 

At a handful of airports, travelers will also find SouveNEARbranded vending machines filled with travel-sized art and other gift-worthy souvenirs such as hand-printed T-shirts, jewelry, stickers, gourmet treats, and other items made by local artists, designers, and makers. 

The concept is the creation of Kansas City-based Suzanne Southard, who brings a background in fair trade retail, non-profit management and art; and Tiffany King, whose has experience in real estate and economics. 

Together, they launched SouveNEAR in 2014 with one used vending machine at Kansas City International Airport (MCI).

“We saw it as a chance to showcase local small businesses in a cost-effective way that lowered the barriers to entry for local makers who were otherwise often locked out of high-rent/high-traffic locations like airports,” said King, “So, we went with the vending machine model as our way to get our foot in the door.””

SouveNEAR Machine is a normal looking vending machine with a large window to see the selection and green and blue decorative exterior panels.The concept worked. SouveNEAR expanded locations at Kansas City International Airport, and now hosts three art vending machines at Oakland International Airport (OAK), one each at Sacramento International Airport (SMF) and Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas, and four machines at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG).

Travelers will also spot SouveNEAR vending machines in Kansas City at Union Station and in both the Salesforce Transit Center and the Mark Hopkins Intercontinental Hotel in San Francisco.

“In each city, we have a local manager who curates our mix of items,” using some buying guidelines to insure price range, category of merchandise, size, and durability for vending, said Southard. “Sometimes we come across new makers at indie craft shows or Etsy. But we really rely on local managers who are already connected with people, places, and art in the cities where they live.”

Suzanne Southard (L) and Tiffany King (R) of SouveNEAR vending machines.Like many small businesses, SouveNEAR got hit hard by the pandemic. The company received some rent relief for the airport machines, but still had costs during the long period when all travel stopped.

“We are in 100% travel-related locations, so there were no sales at all followed by a really slow build. Besides the money that we lost in 2020, we also had to pass up opportunities for growth,” said King. “Our forward momentum just had to stop.”


SouveNEAR did try keeping things going for the artists and makers they worked with through online sales. “Some of them were able to shift to selling much more online than they had before, and we are not the only retail outlet for most,” said King, “But we all breathed a sigh of relief when travel started picking up again.”

Unfortunately, SouveNEAR, which had seven art-filled vending machines throughout the old Kansas City International Airport, is not represented in the new terminal which opened to the public on February 28 because the concept wasn’t part of the concession management proposal that won the overall contract for the terminal. 

Disappointed but undeterred, Southard and King are working on securing spots at the new MCI for their art vending machines. But for now, “the great news is that our city really prioritized local business in the new terminal. Many of the artists and makers we work with can now have their products right in the shops,” said King. 

Southard and King are also looking at ways to take SouveNEAR beyond airports.

“We love being a connector between artists and large markets,” said Southward. “We can imagine SouveNEAR displays within shops nationwide. And we’re looking at ways to extend the reach of local artists with sales in new places such as corporations and hotels.” 

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All images credited to SouveNEAR