Unlike taxi drivers, who are constantly in motion, vendors are usually fixed. We see the same ones every day. They become part of our neighborhoods.
That desire — to profile vendors as fixtures in their neighborhood, informs our summer market at Vendy Plaza. This fall, with support from the New York Council for the Humanities, we are offering a free walking tour of East Harlem, where Vendy Plaza takes place each Sunday. This tour covers stories from the past and present at La Marqueta, NYC’s oldest remaining public market; and stops at a local botanica and area community garden; and other sites that illuminate the neighborhood’s dynamic cultural landscape.
We are proud to offer this tour, in English and Spanish, in conjunction with Turnstile Tours. Sign up here.
Big news was made this week when the Michelin Guide finally opened their fancy minds to street food vendors, awarding Singaporean hawker stall chefs Chan Hon Meng and Tang Chay Seng one star each.
Well done, Michelin! And what better time for you to step up. In 2005 we created the Vendy Awards for the very same reason – to recognize deserving chefs who were being ignored by the so-called food elite. Worthy or not, we’ll take an ounce of credit for helping change who the white-tablecloth crowd deems as worthy of praise. And in less than a month — on September 17th — we’ll recognize this year’s line up of yet-unsung star chefs. As always, one of them will hoist the Vendy Cup. Come celebrate with us — tickets to the event (recognized as one of the best food events in NYC) are available here.
Street vendors are part of our everyday lives. But on the weekends, in cities around the world, people love food markets, whether its La Boqueria in Barcelona or Borough Market in London or Seattle’s Pike Place.
We’re thrilled to be running our own outdoor public market again this summer — we call it Vendy Plaza. Unlike many markets, this one happens on public space with public support (from the NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the City’s Economic Development Corporation). Why is that important? Because private space in NYC is very expensive, driving up prices and keeping out all but the best-capitalized few. We are proud to offer the stalls at Vendy Plaza for free. We are equally proud that the vast majority of vendors there are women and/or people of color.
Just ask Elsie Darrell (above) After working for the city for 30 years, Elise opened a highly-regarded cafe in West Harlem. But after a few years, the landlord doubled the rent. To keep cooking while she plots her next move (while passing along her recipes to her son,) Elsie vends each Sunday at the Plaza. Until you’ve tried her callaloo, you haven’t really lived. Find her and about twenty other vendors each Sunday from noon to 6 pm, at 116th Street and Park Avenue.
In organizations, as in life, people come and go. But why is it that the strongest members of our community frequently leave us too soon?
Last year, we lost our beloved Derrick Wilmot. And a few days ago we saw the passing of long-time Corona food vendor, SVP leader and community activist Claudia Lopez. Claudia, who sold churros and peanuts along Roosevelt Avenue in Queens for nearly twenty years, was an inspiration to us all. We are lucky to have known her and spent time with her, and we can only watch videos like this with great memories of an amazing woman. Her family is raising funds to have her body shipped back to her native Mexico. Please consider making a donation here.
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.
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.