With street vendors, one pattern is clear: people often render them nameless. Even some of the most famous vendors (i.e. “the Dosa Man“, aka Thiru Kumar and “the Arepa Lady”, aka Maria Piedad Cano) are described primarily by what they sell, not who they are. Some vendors eventually give in, turning their anonymity into a brand, as the Halal Guys have done with great effect. Others are given these arguably demeaning/endearing monikers (“Cart Lady” ?? ) despite their best efforts to develop their own business brands, as happened here to SVP member Fauzia Abdur-Rahman, proprieter of Heavenly Delights.
Sure, some vendors can do a better job of marketing. But so too do customers need to start asking vendors their names. We appreciate that this time, at least, the NY Times got it right by proudly naming and sharing the stories of two hard-working vendors in the Bronx — Angelica and Antonio. Not so hard, now, is it?
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 Let’s hope that, by the time spring comes, our City Council and Mayor will have repealed the permit cap that is such a burden on small business in NYC.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.
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!
Working with vendors is so unique that it can sometimes leave us isolated from other movements. But together we are all stronger, right? And lately, more than ever, we have been working in solidarity with other groups. This year, we joined the Food Chain Workers Alliance, and were proud to stand with FCWA and Brandworkers recently in their support of the workers at Amy’s Bread Company in Queens. Good food and good treatment of workers should go together!
We also recently collaborated with the NY Civil Engagement Table on an excellent NYC Council Speaker Forum, where they even asked a question about street vendors! And to top it off, this week we stood in solidarity with Chinese Staff Workers Association, who are working to organize restaurant delivery workers, a hard-working immigrant population that often overlaps (and faces similar race and class-motivated targeting) with SVP’s own members.
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SVP members James Williams and Teresa Gonzales (left) are participating in the Community News Production Institute (CNPI), a WBAI program to bring the voices of street vendors, domestic workers, and taxi drivers to the airwaves by producing their own radio spots. James and Teresa got some prominent air play this week, which you can listen to here and here.
Who says street food is bad for you? Mohammed Miah, an SVP member and food vendor near our office, frequently got requests from customers for vegetarian options, but he never knew quite what to do. A little computer research (and a nice sign, with help from board member Angelo Vega) was all he needed to expand his business to soy dogs, which he is now selling like hotcakes. Go visit him on the corner of Bleeker and Broadway — and stop by our office at 666 Broadway to say hello while you’re at it.
Some vendors sell chili dogs.
More than 80% of NYC vendors are immigrants, so it only makes sense that a group of vendors turned out for the historic rally in Union Square today. It was a beautiful day, and what a thrill it was to link hands with so many people in a common struggle. See photos here: 1 2 3
9. And here is a story about our appearance.