Cap on street vendor permits would be nixed under proposed state law

November 5, 2019

Photo by Anton on Unsplash

A state lawmaker wants to allow more street vendors to legally set up shop across New York by lifting the cap on the number of permits issued statewide. The legislation put forth by State Sen. Jessica Ramos, who represents parts of Queens, would let municipalities decide where sidewalk vendors could operate. “The idea is to decriminalize street vending and do away with caps so that every vendor goes through the appropriate inspections,” Ramos told Gothamist.

Currently, there are roughly 5,100 licensed food vendors across the city, according to the city’s Department of Health. The Street Vendor Project, part of the Urban Justice Center, estimates that there are actually as many as 20,000 street vendors across the city, which includes those selling nonfood items.

Due to the cap on vending first implemented in 1979, as well as a long waiting list not updated in nearly three decades, many sellers choose to buy permits on the black market, which opens them up to tickets and fines. According to Gothamist, two-year permits cost $200. On the black market, the same permits could fetch up to $25,000.

The goal of Ramos’ legislation is to bring currently illegal vendors into compliance with laws placed on existing vendors. It would also erase past violations for previous illegal vending. “People who want to vend are already vending, whether they have a permit or not,” Ramos told Streetsblog on Monday.

“So this is about legalizing those who are, which will protect consumers because the Department of Health, for example, will have inspected if it’s a food vendor. And so many of these vendors are people who are undocumented, so this would limit police interaction.”

Critics of the plan say increasing the number of permits for vendors, who do not pay rent, hurts brick-and-mortar shops set up in the same neighborhood. Others, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, say removing the cap could “create chaos” on already-congested city sidewalks.

“Our sidewalks are clogged in a lot of places,” de Blasio said on NY1’s Inside City Hall on Monday. “I’m particularly concerned about our traditional bricks-and-mortars small businesses who have been struggling a lot, especially with the internet commerce reality.”

This is not the first time a lawmaker has attempted to reshape the city’s vending industry. Former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito made multiple attempts to push through legislation that would lift the cap on permits and create a dedicated law enforcement unit. Although it appeared likely to pass, it failed after opposition from the real estate industry and small businesses.

[Via Gothamist]


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