As street vendors from across the city get ready to celebrate their work and call for changes to be made, some local organizations are voicing their opposition to what they call a “disaster” program.
The Street Vendor Project is holding a Vendor Power Parade on Tuesday outside of 250 Broadway where vendors will get together to celebrate the diversity of the group but also raise their voices against the criminalization of vendors.
And although for years street carts have been a way for immigrants to strive toward the American Dream, for others, their businesses have created a quality of life issue.
Dan Biederman, president of the 34th Street Partnership, believes the city should not lift the cap of the permits but should actually change the way the vendor program is handled across the five boroughs.
“We think the current program is a complete and utter disaster,” Biederman said. “Not only on its own but compared to what other cities are doing.”
Since 1981, New York City has put a cap on the number of vendor permits allowed with a total of 3,000 permits issued to food carts and trucks year-round and 1,000 seasonal, reported the New York Daily News. As a result many vendors now pay up to $25,000 to rent permits off a black market from those previously granted permits for a certain number of years.
On Tuesday the vendors and advocates will call for the lifting of the cap on vendor licenses and permits, along with giving those already on the street permits and changing laws that would end the alienation of the vendors.
But according to Biederman, there are ten points why he believes the vendors are not right how they currently function and need to be reformed.
His reasons include the sizes of the carts being too big; “horrendous” appearances; limiting space for pedestrians on streets; too large of a number of carts in one location; bad sanitary practices; competition with local brick and mortar stores; littering; smoke coming out of the carts; loud generators or dangerous cooking tanks; and loud music being played out of radios or boomboxes.
“New York City has the worst collection of ugly and poorly run food carts in any city in the country,” he said. “Why in the world would you triple the size of this terrible program that none of the cities in the top ten have?”
Biederman added that instead of the city lifting the cap of the number of permits, he believes it should bid the permits and licenses out to prospective vendors — like the Parks Department does with vendors on its properties.
He believes that this would get rid of the “middle man” which is the black market and help also bring in someone or any organization that could regulate the appearance of the carts while also give them a “bit of discipline.”
“Having the discipline that there are some carts that are clean would upgrade the others,” Biederman said. “It's been a race to the bottom so far.”
Andrew Rigie, executive director of NYC Hospitality Alliance, also believes that lifting the cap of permits would not solve anything. The street vendors and the brick and mortars, he said, should get together and find a middle ground.
“Most everyone on both sides agree that the current system is broken,” Rigie said. “We believe a panel should be convened that will take a hard look on the system, what does work and what does not work.”
He added that lifting the cap would allow there to be a “free for all” for prospective vendors so instead he believes the city should hold a comprehensive review of all mobile vending regulations and then determine the appropriate number of permits.
“Eliminating a cap isn’t going to fix anyone’s problems, it’s going to create more problems,” Rigie said. “I think by analyzing and working together to fix the system, the brick and mortar and street vendors will be able to live together.”
However, for Elise Goldin, senior organizer for the Street Vendor Project, one of the main things she believes should be looked at when seeing oppositions to their movement is who is on the opposing side.
She added that vendors are what give the city its diversity and the majority of the people who support the vendors are local residents or tourists who like to get a taste of what makes New York City the way it is.
“The folks that we are talking about are majority immigrant workers and veteran workers that are making a living working really hard on the street,” Goldin said. “Street vendors are a part of New York City and that is why we are celebrating them tomorrow.”
She continued by saying that she believes the vendors deserve recognition for the work they have been doing — in some cases for decades in the same spots. She also said that she sees this as an immigrant issue, an income inequality issue and a veteran issue.
And she added that although there might be some cases where vendors are not clean and are responsible for the “unsanitary” conditions opposers point out, the majority of the vendors want to do the right thing — which starts off with getting a permit the right way.
“I think in terms of bad sanitary practices and littering, it’s also really important to say from our project perspective we are not advocating chaos on the street,” she said. “A lot of what we do here is train the vendors on what the laws are, how are they supposed to act. People really want to follow the laws.”