Politicians all love to wave flags and march in parades on Veterans Day, which was last week. But when it comes to supporting bills to help veteran street vendors (like Intros 434 and 435) our friends at City Hall sometimes are not so patriotic.
There are nearly 2,000 US military veterans working on the streets of New York City, all thanks to a 1894 state law recognizing that those who defend our country should at least get to put a 6-foot table on the public sidewalk. News flash: many vets are losing their livelihoods due to $1,000 tickets imposed by the Bloomberg administration. Maybe every Council Member not supporting the bills should have to tell SVP board member Bernard Haynes (pictured here, from his days in Korea) why the $1,000 tickets he got for vending on a subway grate are fair compensation for his heroic service.
There are a whole lot of urban planners, thinkers and writers who care about public space and how its used. In New York, the Department of Transportation has won rave reviews the last few years for creating people-friendly public spaces, with bike lanes and plazas. But rarely do urban planners plan for street vendors. Luckily that is changing. Columbia University’s Urban Planning program spent a whole semester, with our help, studying vendors and preparing an in-depth report (downloadable here) about how the vending rules could be reformed to benefit the public. And last week, as part of Urban Design Week, we co-sponsored a public-space picnic (with Columbia and the Design Trust for Public Space) to demonstrate how legalizing vendors could enliven many desolate plazas, if only there were allowed to work there. Imagine that. Pictures here.
Our campaign to get rid of the $1,000 vending tickets, aka Intros 434 and 435 is going well, and a majority of City Council Members are now co-sponsors of both bills. But a few Council Members are hesitant to get on board without more knowledge. Which we fully respect. That is why we’ve been spending time in working-class Jamaica, Queens, talking to Council Member Leroy Comrie, the Deputy Majority Leader and his consituents. If videos like this don’t convince him, we don’t know what will.
One of the most difficult things about bringing together street vendors into one community is that sometimes they fight against each other for scarce sidewalk space. Ocassionally, when people are struggling like vendors are, it even gets violent.
Since no vendor has any legal claim to any particular spot, its all about respect. Its one thing to encourage vendors to respect each other’s spots, but what do you do when someone doesn’t listen? Last week, a group of SVP members (left) paid a visit to a supposed bad-apple vendor, to encourage him to keep a respectful distance from vendors who had spent years building up their spots. And you know what? He turned out to be a pretty nice guy. Here’s to all vendors working together in peace!
There will never be a lack of brick-and-mortar businesses complaining about “unfair competition” from street vendors. Whether its Korean green grocers in the outer boroughs or Business Improvement Districts in Washington Heights, store-based merchants love to use their power against their less-developed neighbors selling from tables, carts or trucks.
But you know what? We’re sick of it. They can make any claim they want, but every bit of research shows that vendors do not compete with brick-and-mortar merchants. From now on, any journalist that presents the tired, “store owners said this, vendors said that” story without citing the available research on the matter is not doing their job. So, here it is: scholarly proof that vendors do not compete with brick-and-mortar merchants. The vendors rest. Thank you.
All street vendors are heroes, but only very few get recognized for it. Sometimes they save a city from likely calamity and end up getting phone calls from President Obama. Other times they see something, say something, and it turns out to be false alarm, like this guy near Fordham University yesterday. Sometimes they rescue pigeons.
Whatever it is, SVP is working to get vendors recognized for their overall heroism, which is why we’ll have a non-culinary award category at this year’s Vendy Awards, as we discussed recently on radio here and in print here. Now go nominate your favorite vendor here.
$1,000 tickets for licensed street vendors are unduly harsh under any circumstance. But especially when the system under which they are heard is so much of a kangaroo court. This tape, of an ECB hearing for Mohammed Shafiqul Huda (left), shows what kind of travesty of justice can occur.
What are the problems here, apart from the general rude treatment Huda receives? 1) he clearly needs an interpreter and was not provided one, 2) he says he wants the officer to come, only to be talked out of it by the judge, 3) he in fact had a defense, that he was not vending at the time but had only gotten there 10 minutes before and was waiting for the street to open up at 6 pm, but was not given a chance to present it due to his lack of English and the judge’s leading questions. The fine? $750. SVP is appealing the case. Albor Ruiz of the Daily News covered Huda’s story here.
The easiest example of the system being unfairly stacked against NYC street vendors is this: vending fines for the most minor violations (like having a cooler poking out from underneath your cart or placing your table more than 18 inches from the curb) can cost up to $1,000. While no senior executives at Lehman, Bear Stearns or AIG has had to pay one cent for their role in the worldwide financial crisis, hard-working, tax-paying licensed vendors are required to pay $1,000 every day in New York City. When we tell people this, they simply don’t believe it — and yet we see the affected families in our office all the time. We even made a short video about some of them.
But the news is not all bleak! Council Member Stephen Levin from Brooklyn has sponsored two bills that would reduce the vending fines to pre-2005 levels. Intros 434 and 435, which now each have 15 co-sponsors at City Council, would not only provide relief to street vendors during difficult times. As the NY Post pointed out this week, it would also allow the city to collect more revenue, because vendors would be able to pay their fines, rather than them going into default. Sounds like a “win,win” proposition to us. We’ll be writing letters and getting signatures soon, but for now, please friend our “Lower the Fines” Facebook page here to stay updated on our progress.
New York City, with a mayor who got his start as an entrepreneur, likes to say it supports small businesses. The City’s Economic Development Corporation is even spending $1 million to open “business incubators,” in all five boroughs, to encourage the “next Google.” Sounds exciting!
At the same time, however, the City is doing nothing to save the Aqueduct Flea Market, which supports nearly 1,000 less glamorous immigrant small-business owners and is being evicted by the NY State gambling commission next week. Despite a bunch of press coverage (1,2,3) and the best efforts of the Indo-Carribean Alliance to organize the vendors and find them a new location, it seems this 30-year old Queens marketplace will be going out with a whimper. Our friends at the Center for an Urban Future said it best in their World of Opportunity report: “in most cases, immigrant-run businesses aren’t even on the radar of local economic development officials.” Why is that? And where is the outrage about Aqueduct?