City Council votes to approve bill to increase number of street vendor permits

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Churro purveyors display their citations for selling goods in the subway during a November 2019 rally.
Mark Hallum

By Mark Hallum

Street food vendor permits will be easier to come by in 2022 after New York City Council voted to approve a bill that will allow more to be issued, creating economic opportunity and ending punitive measures against low-income New Yorkers selling illegally.

An added benefit of issuing new permits vocalized by a number of council members was the likelihood that it would prevent black market sales of permits and give businesses an alternative to renting permits from other vendors for up to $1,000 at times.

Chin, during her turn to explain her vote in favor, argued against naysayers coming to the defense of storefronts that street vendors should be counted among small businesses, and thus should not be separated from the general call for economic support.

“It’s not a perfect bill, but it’s a beginning to organize this chaotic system that have existed for so long in our city,” Chin said. “New York City is on our way to recovery, we have to include everyone, and we have to work together. There are great examples of vendors working together with brick and mortar business. They bring customers to each other.”

Councilman Mark Gjonaj, chair of the Small Business Committee, expressed concerns that an increase of street vendor permits would pit business owners against one another in a case of contested sidewalks, especially considering the Open Storefronts program designed to give shops space to sell outdoors in the ongoing pandemic.

“Will they contribute to the area’s [business improvement district] assessment that they benefit from and at the expense of brick and mortar business,” Gjonaj said. “The question is, who will have the rights in the sidewalk. First, the vendor, or the brick and mortar store? Will this escalate into confrontations in a race of whoever gets there first, who will be responsible for dirty sidewalks subject to sanitation tickets? Tickets are issued to building addresses facing the sidewalks… Where will street vendors place their garbage, at whose expense, the city’s when trash is placed on corner baskets?”

New street vendor permits have not been issued to the public since the 1980s, leading to claims of over-policing of food sellers across the five boroughs. With organizations such as the Street Vendors Project making a collective call for more permits for what they see as a social justice initiative for immigrants, the drive for change has been a long time coming.

“I just want to bring to your attention that enforcement is critical that we have to look to stop the level of exploitation on some people that are in the black market. They’re using the permit [to] make a lot of money on the table. So, I hope as part of the process, we will be able to work with the administration to put the necessary resources so that enforcement happens,” Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the Transportation Committee, said.

In one colorful demonstration outside the David Dinkins Municipal Building in November marked the one year anniversary since the “churro lady” was arrested in a Brooklyn train station, prompting a renewed call for justice.

The issue has not only been seen as punitive toward immigrants and people of color, it has cost the city money after a class action lawsuit ended in favor vendors.

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