Friends sometimes innocently ask us, “who doesn’t like street vendors?” They are hard-working people, they are honest, they provide us with stuff we need every day, etc. Who doesn’t like ’em? A fair question. The answer is easy. People like Donald Trump don’t like street vendors. Billionaire real estate developers do not like street vendors. Racists and xenophobes do not like street vendors. Arrogant, bombastic, narcissists do not usually like street vendors.
In fact, it’s not just people like Donald Trump. Trump himself has personally been a powerful voice against vendors in NYC. In 1991, and again in 2004, he lobbied to remove disabled veteran vendors from Fifth Avenue because, he thought, they would “downgrade” the area. SVP even once protested the presence of illegal sidewalk planters (visible here), displacing vendors, outside Trump Tower.
We don’t get involved with Presidential elections. But street vendors are proud to call Barack Obama our friend. And equally proud to call Donald Trump our great enemy.
Politicians love to talk about supporting small businesses and reducing the bureaucracy that makes it so hard to run one. We were thrilled to hear that NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer had created a Red Tape Commission and scheduled a series of hearings to listen to what kind of government obstacles stand in the way of small business survival and growth.
After all, no small businesses face greater government regulations than vendors on the street. So yesterday, about 15 SVP members attended the Manhattan hearing, where they spoke movingly about the biggest piece of red tape in the city — the cap on vending licenses and permits. Gothamist was there to help amplify what was said. The testimony became part of the permanent record. An hopefully the Commission will recommend, in its final report, that the permit cap be lifted.
Politicians always love to talk about supporting small businesses. But when it comes down to policy, sometimes they are slow to act. And that failure can affect people’s lives.
We saw this again this week when another popular food vendor – Mexico Blvd — announced they are closing their truck for good. The difficulty getting a permit, and the hassles with parking, finally got to be too much. Luckily, the Loaeza family has a brick-and-mortar, so hopefully they will be ok. But how many vending businesses quietly go under, and they don’t make the news? How many entrepreneurs look into starting a food vending business and, reading how difficult it is, never even start?
As things get cold in New York, and summer permits expire, let’s hope that many food vendors are able to survive this winter. Let’s hope that, by the time spring comes, our City Council and Mayor will have repealed the permit cap that is such a burden on small business in NYC. Jobs and livelihoods are at stake. The solution is simple. Let’s hope our politicians act.
Yesterday it had been 529 days since April 11, 2014, the day we kicked off our campaign to Lift the Caps, decades old, on vending licenses and permits.
We’ve been patient in the meantime, as important bills got introduced at City Hall, debated, and signed by the Mayor. After 12 years of a billionaire in office, and a new administration concerned about lessening inequality, there was a plenty of work to be done. But we won’t wait forever while trivial concerns take precedence. This summer, when a dozen or so (semi) topless women began taking pictures with tourists in Times Square, DeBlasio quickly convened a high-powered task force. And yet here we have thousands of immigrant workers and entrepreneurs, and their families, calling out for change on an issue of basic equity that affects their lives every day.
Yesterday, we rallied in Lower Manhattan, calling for action. More than 250 vendors and their supporters spoke their minds. Hopefully, someone will listen.
Many people love street food and support vendors, but they don’t have time to read long articles about city policies arguing this and that. People have short attention spans these days! Even City Council Members, who we elect to wrestle with these matters, are incredibly busy with a million issues.
For them, we created this short animated video that explains why we need to lift the NYC street vendor permit and license caps (#LifttheCaps) after all these years. We premiered it on Monday to legislators across from City Hall, and its now garnering hits on Youtube and Facebook, where its already been viewed over 10,000 times. A popular local food blog picked it up, and a Spanish language TV station covered our little action.
Please watch the video and forward it to your social media contacts! And let us know if you think it is effective.
While (note to researchers!) we’ve never seen a study done, we know that vending on the street is hazardous work. The toll on even the strongest bodies is immense. Long hours on your feet in all weather conditions. Limited ability (thanks to the DOH) to use the bathroom. An outsized chance of getting hit by a run-away vehicle. Or robbed and killed.
And we know that many vendors, especially those who work over charcoal grills for years on end, suffer from respiratory ailments. Better technology exists, but vendors often don’t have the capital to invest in their own health. With that in mind, we are proud to be a part of any venture that will help vendors work in safer conditions — for themselves and for the whole planet. A new company in town is doing just that, by way of a cleaner, safer food cart. We were proud to stand with MOVE systems today, and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, to announce their new venture.
For as long as vendors have worked the streets, some of them have seen success, saved money, and opened storefronts. Who, after all, would not prefer a roof over their heads? This happened in 1910, when Yonah Schimmel graduated from a pushcart to the city’s first knish bakery, on East Houston Street. And it happens today — in fact, the famous Halal Guys now have two restaurants in NYC and they have dreams of opening them around the globe.
This means that, while some brick-and-mortars complain about vendors, they are really all part of a continuum. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer recognized as much today, when she released a report calling for the city to make it easier for vendors to open storefronts. By granting permits, for example!
We will keep with that theme on April 21st, at the Great Street Meet, when we present the Stepladder Award to Yonah Schimmel, for their 105 years of service to NYC. Each year, we will give this award to a larger business that used vending as a stepladder to success. We can think of no more appropriate first choice than Yonah Schimmels. And guess who will be presenting the Award? Yep. Borough President Gale Brewer.
SVP members have been hard at work on an important legislative campaign to lift the caps on vendor permits and licenses. Since the early 1980s, an arbitrary cap has been placed on the number of available food permits and general vending licenses. This cap effectively makes street vending illegal for thousands of vendors and has led to the creation of a black market where permits (originally purchased from the City for $200) are now sold upwards of $20,000. Not fair!
Last year, we kicked off this campaign at the Murphy Center. This year, we’ll be getting into full swing. We want to decriminalize vending for hard-working immigrant communities, generate revenue for the City, and put an end to this illegal black market.
Please support this campaign by signing this petition!
Vendors need training just as much, if not more, than other small businesses. SVP, with our large membership, our partnerships, and our expertise in vendor issues, is uniquely situated to provide that training. Which is why we teamed up this year with Queens EDC to apply for Competition THRIVE, a NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC) program that “seeks to develop innovative strategies and programs that help immigrant entrepreneurs succeed in business.” We proposed a program called Street Vendor Academy, which became a finalist!
With a $25,000 seed grant, we recruited fifteen art vendors from Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan in a six-session training program that covered technology, financial planning, customer service, marketing, product mix/sourcing, and location/regulations. The sessions, conducted in the Tibetan language at CHHAYA in Jackson Heights, Queens, were a big success. Some of the vendors, like Senge Pasang (above left) opened bank accounts for the first time and began accepting credit cards at their mobile locations. In January, we’ll compete for the grand prize, so wish us luck!
UPDATE: Congrats to SoBro! While we did not win the $100,000 grand prize, we are seeking funding to support this work in the future.
Once, long before Whole Foods and even Gristedes, New York City was home to dozens of thriving public markets where people did their daily and weekly shopping. Sadly, over the years, the number of these markets has dwindled to just four — at Essex Street, Arthur Avenue, Moore Street, and La Marqueta, in East Harlem. While today we can order all our food online, people still yearn for the market experience. Smorgasburg, Hester Street Fair, LIC Flea, and other successful examples have proven that much. We want delicious, authentic food and we want to meet the people who make it.
Thus came about our new venture. With the massive help of Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, we created Vendy Plaza, an outdoor, covered food market at La Marqueta, one of the city’s most storied public spaces. We hope this idea, which we will be trying out each Sunday in November, will become a neighborhood gathering spot and an incubation space where new food entrepreneurs – from E. Harlem and across the city — can get their start. Stay tuned!