For about 30 years the number of food vendor permits in New York City has been capped at 3,000. To circumvent this, an unground market has popped up where permits are “leased” for as much as $30,000 a year. The City Council is poised to increase the number of permits and change how food vendors are enforced. The bill:
“would gradually expand the number of permits to vend food on the streets and sidewalks of New York City. Several new permits, now referred to as supervisory licenses, would be issued in batches each year beginning in 2022 until 2032. The new supervisory licenses require at least one supervisory licensee to be always present at a pushcart. This new requirement will not be applied to existing permits until 2032, at which time a supervisory licensee must be present at any cart to operate. The bill will also create a new dedicated vending law enforcement unit, which would exclusively enforce vending laws. It would focus on areas of the City with known vending enforcement challenges but will respond to vending complaints and violations throughout the City. The bill would also create a street vendor advisory board, to assess the effectiveness of the enforcement unit and the roll-out of new permits and examine and make recommendations pertaining to vending laws.”
Small business groups are infuriated by this bill. They rightfully view the vendors as unfair competition because of their low operating costs. Street vendors in New York, who sell practically everything from fruit, to clothing, to personal protective equipment. Furthermore, they do not pay rent or workers’ compensation, and in most cases do not even have employees. Let us go back to the City Council’s outrage that vendors illegally lease permits for as much as $30,000 a year. Most restaurants must pay that much just in rent every month.
As the Covid-19 pandemic has decimated small businesses, particularly restaurants, it is a slap in the face that the City Council is looking to help their competition without offering much more than platitudes to the ever-disappearing neighborhood institutions. Street vendors are an important part of the NYC ecosystem and provide an opportunity for immigrants and others to build a life for themselves and their families. The City Council is not wrong in the need to revamp the permitting system, but the timing here is atrocious. The priority needs to be saving brick and mortar small businesses. Once the pandemic is behind us and the economy is up and running again, it would be more appropriate to move forward with street vendor reform.