On February 2nd, during a virtual town hall organized for small businesses, the Street Vendor Project (SVP) continued its push for lawmakers to expand access to regulated street vending.
One week after they walked to Times Square in protest of the $1,000 fine imposed on those who do not have a license and the confiscation of their products, the non-profit organization gathered members of the Nourish Spot, Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A, Workers Justice Project, and Save Our Storefronts to discuss how the status quo affect street vendors. Today, 3,000 licenses have been issued in New York City, but the waiting list is estimated to be in the thousands.
“People may think street vending is completely deregulated, but like any business, workers pay taxes, rent, salaries, utilities, and deliveries,” said SVP Director Mohamed Attia. “An average truck has a rent between $1,500 and $2,000 each month.”
Panelists then explained how new legislation, S1175A and A5081A, could support business owners and allow them to build capital. It is not the first effort to support street vendors. In January 2021, the New York City Council passed a landmark bill to increase the number of available licenses for street vendors for the first time since 1983. While it would promise 4,000 new licenses issued in New York City by 2032, street vendors say this is too little, too late. The scarcity of permits has created a black market where vendors sell their own licenses for rates up to $25,000, which is much more than the $200 that the city charges every two years.
These new bills, sponsored by Senator Jessica Ramos and Assemblywoman Jessica Gonzáles-Rojas, would formalize street vending in cities of one million and more. There would no longer be a limit on how many vendors can operate in the city nor a waiting list to obtain a license.
SVP Legal Director Matthew Shapiro explained that lifting the license cap is the only way to create a pathway to entrepreneurship for street vendors, who are primarily women, people of color, and military members.
“Street vendors need a lease and space, which we know can be very challenging in New York,” said Shapiro. “If you can save and build capital, you can open your own restaurant. For example, the very famous ‘Halal Guys’ on W 53rd Street and 6th Avenue now have a few brick-and-mortars outlets across the city and in other states.”
Last year, more than 150 business owners signed a petition to oppose the increase of street vending licenses in New York City, and SVP Deputy Director Carina Kaufman-Gutierrez thinks it is because many restaurants believe they are going to lose customers.
“There is this myth of competition between restaurants and street vendors when it is a very different clientele,” said Gutierrez. “If I am going out to eat dinner and see a street vendor, I am not going to stop and say ‘Actually, I don’t want to sit down and I will eat a taco in my hand.’”
During the meeting, Save Our Storefronts volunteer Chris LaCass explained that street vendors were more likely to increase food and pedestrian circulation. In a short presentation, he explained that a 2015 Department of Health and Mental Hygiene study found that fresh products sold in establishments increased by 20 percent in areas with green carts.
This effort has captured the attention and support of Senator Roxanne Persaud and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who each had a staff member present at the meeting.