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!
While Mayor De Blasio has generally received high praise for his progressive agenda, one area we think he is getting legitimate criticism is with the NYPD.
The problem is that he appointed as Police Commissioner one of the original architects of “broken windows” policing — Bill Bratton. Bratton’s theory may have made sense in the early 90’s, when New York was nearly spiraling out of control. But nowadays, with crime way down, “broken windows” looks a lot like targeting low-income people of color for minor offenses like subway dancing, jaywalking, marijuana possession, and, yes — even vending.
This was seen, most tragically, in the case of Eric Garner, who was killed by the NYPD in July while being arrested for selling loose cigarettes on a quiet street in Staten Island. And a recent video from some great Copwatch advocates in Brooklyn shows NYPD officers treating vendors with neither courtesy, professionalism, nor respect. Instead the officers needlessly escalate an encounter with degrading language, an unwarranted arrest, and even a kick to go along with it!
Street vendors are not broken windows, but rather hard-working people, usually immigrants, who are contributing to their neighborhoods and serving their customers. If Bratton doesn’t realize that, then Mayor De Blasio should find a commissioner who does.
As we often recognize, street vendors are far from the only beleaguered group of self-employed workers in public space. In New York, we also have subway dancers, pedicab drivers, bicycle delivery workers, and …. Elmos.
Yes, Elmos, and also Spidermen, Batmen, Doras the Explorer, and just about every other cartoon character you can imagine. These enterprising folks (mostly undocumented immigrants from South America) have realized they can make a few bucks posing for pictures with tourists in Times Square, then asking for a tip afterward. With the city having “cleaned-up” the neighborhood and added spacious pedestrian plazas, these performers have plenty of room to work. They have become tourist favorites, especially with kids.
Just one catch. Big businesses, like Disney and Viacom, don’t like the costumed characters. The local Business Improvement District — the same one that sold much of Times Square to huge corporations during the Super Bowl — doesn’t either. Some bad news involving a couple of the characters recently hit the press, and now a City Council Member from the Bronx is proposing legislation.
The good news is that these costumed characters have now gotten organized and are working with our partners at La Fuente to make sure their voices are heard. Today they held a big press conference where they announced they will be fighting back. SVP will be right beside them.
Los Angeles is the second most important city for street vending in the United States.They have an amazing history of immigrant vendors. They have an exciting, edgy food truck scene. Vendors there are currently getting organized in a very important campaign (spearheaded by our friends at the East LA Community Corporation) to legalize sidewalk vending. And, as the NY Times recently discovered, LA officials are even starting to embrace vendors as an expression of that city’s strong immigrant culture.
All this means we never miss a chance to go to Southern California, as we did this past weekend! For this year’s LA Vendy Awards, we decided to link up with street food expert (and 2010 Vendy LA Judge) Bill Esparza, who puts on a little event every year called Tacolandia. Forty taco-makers in the taco capital of the US, with a few more traveling in from Mexico? We were there! And quite thrilled to present Raul Ortega from the legendary Mariscos Jalisco with this year’s LA Vendy Cup for best street taco 2014.
We’ll say it – organizing street vendors can be isolating. Vendors are often not seen as workers, and since they have never (really) been organized until SVP came along in 2001, people don’t know what box to put them in.
That is one reason we are so lucky to be a member of the Food Chain Workers Alliance, a coalition started in 2009 to do exactly what we need — make connections with other groups who are doing similar work. Here, the common theme is the food chain; FCWA organizes along the entire food system, from the farm where our food is picked to the distribution center where it is shipped to the restaurant (or food cart) where it is eventually served to us. With so many people caring about where their food is grown (but often not how the people who pick and serve it are treated) this issue seems ripe for progress.
We also need inspiration. So last weekend, two of our vendor leaders (Pauli and Mohammed Altaf) got to go to sunny Miami for the FCWA annual retreat. We took a trip to the fields, learning about how the Florida Farmworker Association organizes workers around pesticide use and other issues. We also took part in a big march against Publix Supermarkets, who are still refusing to the pay the Coalition for Immokalee Workers an extra penny a pound.
Sometimes intellectuals like to sip wine and debate whether street vendors are “workers” or “self-employed” people or “entrepreneurs.” We say yes to all of the above!
Thankfully the US labor movement is starting to realize that work is changing and these intellectual distinctions don’t make much sense. People who go to work every day, and get screwed, need to stick together. In recent years, organized labor has forged important new alliances with taxi drivers and domestic workers, for example.
And the tent is getting bigger. The Murphy Center for Labor Studies, a prestigious institute at CUNY, invited us to kick off our newest “Lift the Caps” campaign and hold a panel discussion this week entitled Taking It to the Streets! Street Vendors in the New Labor Economy. What a morning! The panel was moderated by Ed Ott, who just released New Labor in New York, an important book that includes a chapter on street vendors. The Speaker of the City Council — Melissa Mark Viverito — gave the opening remarks. And many allies in labor forged new ties to workers who happen to sell food on our streets and sidewalks.
Pictures from the event are here and (if you are really serious) you can watch the full video here.
For weeks, everyone in town has been excited — the Superbowl is coming to New York (or at least New Jersey) this year!
As part of the celebration, the city created Super Bowl Boulevard — a big street fair — along a 13-block stretch of Broadway in midtown. Pro football is big business, so it was no surprise to see huge corporate tents, football-themed games, video projection shows and even a toboggan ride! Great way to get people excited before the big game!
However, as we so often see, when big corporations come to town, they kick out the little guys. In this case, vendors who have worked for years on those blocks have now been ticketed and evicted from their locations. Instead of having a chance to share in the proceeds (estimated to be $500 to $600 million) from this big event, they are losing money! The local business group didn’t even notify the vendors, much less work with the police to find spaces for them to work in the meantime.
Out of work, a group of the evicted vendors decided to hold a press conference today to express their outrage. A lot of media are in town — we got good coverage. The vendors got to vent. And hopefully next time a mega-event comes to town, our city leaders will include not just the multinational corporations, but the neighborhood small businesses who are there every day.