UPDATED Oct. 1, 2021, 10:52 a.m.: A coalition of advocacy organizations is pushing a state bill to vastly expand street vending across New York City.
The legislation would eliminate the city’s cap on the number of licenses for street vendors. It would also let vendors operate just about wherever and whenever they want, with limited exceptions.
“My underlying belief is that any New Yorker should be able to open their own small business in their neighborhood,” said Sen. Jessica Ramos, the bill’s sponsor.
That view is not shared by commercial landlords and the business improvement districts that represent them. Seeing vendors as competition for brick-and-mortar businesses, these real estate interests were able to stymie pro-vendor city legislation for decades, although a bill raising the cap and loosening some other rules eventually did pass this year.
The state bill, however, would go much further. Aside from providing for unlimited vending licenses and removing location bans, it would vacate street vendors’ records from past citations and misdemeanors related to sidewalk vending, reduce fines and limit street vending violations to citations.
“All the BIDs are very unhappy with this idea,” said Dan Biederman, founder and president of one of those groups, the 34th Street Partnership. “It hurts retail, which is already stressed.”
Under the bill passed by the City Council in January, the city will hand out 400 additional licenses annually for 10 years starting in July 2022, more than doubling the number of licenses.
Currently, holders of vendor licenses can renew them indefinitely for a nominal fee, a system that led to an illicit underground market.
“The lift on the caps is a really, really, really important aspect of this bill, because it doesn’t limit the ability for anyone to to create a street vending small business,” Assembly member Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, who sponsors the Assembly version of the bill.
Support for the legislation follows social media outcry over a street vendor’s illegal stand in the Bronx being raided by the New York Police Department and Department of Sanitation.
— StreetVendorProject (@VendorPower) September 25, 2021
In a statement, the Street Vendor Project, an advocacy group for vendors, called on the legislature to “[remove] the barrier to entry to the industry so that vendors may obtain permits and licenses to operate their business in accordance with the law.”
“As we recover from a devastating pandemic, we urge the legislature to invest in economic development strategies that center the most marginalized, supporting street vendors in doing their jobs and acquiring permits and licenses to legalize their work, rather than criminalizing them for trying to provide for their families,” the organization said in a statement.
The state bill would only apply to New York City. The state legislative session will begin in January.
This story has been updated with comments from Dan Biederman.