NYC street vendors push legalization before budget approval

Jahlil Rush, Production Assistant

Over 20,000 street vendors call the streets of New York City home, selling almost everything from clothes and food to everyday household items, making activism for business rights in the city understandable.

Vendor supporters are calling for New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul to lift New York’s cap on permits for sidewalk vendors and other businesses, according to a report from AMNY.

If passed through New York’s Legislature, Senate Bill S1175B would prevent the New York Police Department from issuing street vending offenses and ensure that a civilian agency commits to oversight.

In addition to easing political and business barriers for small business vendors, the bill would allow prior criminal convictions for street vending to be “vacated” to prevent federal immigration consequences.

The bill also would create a pathway to entrepreneurship by dismissing the current barrier that prevents vendors from starting vending businesses, allowing them to obtain the correct permits needed to run their businesses.

Currently, vending without a permit results in a $1,000 fine, a punishment that Street Vendor Project Advocacy Director Mohamed Attia has said 90% of underground market operators have gone through.

City street vendors acted on Monday by holding a 24-hour “sleep-out” protest in front of Hochul’s office in midtown Manhattan.

Over 20 merchants planned the sleep-out, hoping that Hochul would pass a 2019 bill founded by New York State Sen.ator Jessica Ramos and Assembly member Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas.

New York City Street vendors have had a history of fighting for vendor rights.

In January 2022, over 150 vendor advocates marched in Times Square seeking the passage of street vending legislation. The march occurred on the anniversary of the city passing Intro 1116, a bill that introduced mobile food vending permits for over the next 10 years.

Attia said that the first step in the fight for vendor rights is working to remove the cap on the number of licenses that New York City provides to street vendors. Non-veteran merchandise vendors have access to only 853 licenses. But by 2032, there will be 9,000 supervisory licenses available across New York State.

“This is a system that was created back in the ’70s and ’80s where the city government placed caps on the number of permits and licenses and then everybody else was trying to get into this business,” Attia told The Bronx Times-Reporter. “But because of long waitlists and a cap that can’t support the demand from vendors in the city, we have vendors being treated like criminals and having their stands destroyed for operating illegally.”

According to data gathered by The Bronx Times-Reporter, over 11,679 open applications are on a waiting list for vending licenses. Behind that number, 2,981 vendors found in the Bronx are still awaiting confirmation to run in the city.

“There’s no break,” said Elyse Delgado, a waitlisted vendor who works on Fordham Road. “There’s no empathy from the city, from the law enforcement and from the officials who treat us like criminals for trying to provide for our families.”

Jim Urso, a spokesperson for Hochul, released a statement saying that Hochul’s executive budget includes “bold initiatives.”

“Governor Hochul’s executive budget includes bold initiatives to embrace this once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in our future, and we look forward to continuing to work with the legislature to finalize a budget that serves all New Yorkers,” Urso said.