Campaigns can take a long time to win. The key is to stay patient while working tenaciously every day to get one step closer to the goal.
One person who worked tenaciously every day on the #LiftTheCaps campaign was vendor Claudia Lopez, who passed away one year ago this week. On Monday, we gathered at her old vending spot in Corona to remember Claudia and also call attention to the fact that thousands of other vendors are still waiting for the city to take action. Thanks to all who attending this poignant event, coverage of which is here and here and 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.
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.
We were quietly getting ready for a new Mayor last month when we heard the Parks Department was kicking hot dog vendors out of Washington Square Park! Why? Not due to “congestion” (like they bogusly claimed at Union Square) but because rich people, heiresses, and celebrities from the new Washington Square Park Conservancy thought the vendors were “unsightly.” Funny, but we’d use words like “offensive,” “elitist” and “racist” instead. Either way, we don’t have enough people to be at every Community Board meeting where decisions about public space like this are made. Thank God a local blogger activist was on the case!
Together with neighbors concerned about private control of their public park, parks advocates, and the affected vendors themselves, SVP held a rally and press conference to draw attention to the issue.
As usual, direct action gets the goods! Just after the new year, the Parks Department reversed course, announcing that the vendors could stay. A huge victory for people who care about immigrant workers and public space. And a good start to a new year, and hopefully a new era, for vendors in NYC!
SVP member photo/bio/whatever goes here.