Sunday, October 29, 2006

Caveat Vendor

In today's NY Daily News the paper has a point-counterpoint debate over the role of peddlers in New York City. On one side, representing New York retailers, is Gristedes head John Catsimatidis. Promoting the peddler point of view is Sean Basinski, who directs the Urban Justice Center's Street Vendor Project.

The Alliance's position on this issue has been made clear on any number of occasions. Basinski, though, makes a strong case that the peddlers are generally hard working and should be allowed to continue to pursue what he believes is the American dream. He then goes on to say,"The only people complaining about vendors are stores that would rather not have the competition. But competition is the American way."

First of all, as Catsimatidis points out, the stores are not the only ones complaining about peddler proliferation. On the East Side, Community Board #8 has issued a strong condemnation of the apparent metastasizing of vendors in their community. Even more important, however, is the fact that the competition that Basinski believes he is championing is nothing but a sham.

As Catsimatidis highlights the romanticization of peddlers overlooks their almost complete lack of overhead when it comes to rent, taxes and even the regulatory burden that Basinski whines is so crippling for his peddlers ( " average of 6.7 tickets every year."). Most city supermarkets would buy into a deal that guaranteed that they would only get 6.7 tickets in a year.

The city's retailers, many of whom are also hard-working immigrants, are the economic backbone of the city. If the city wants to have non-real estate paying peddlers set up right in front of Manhattan food stores it should offer the stores a 50% reduction in the property taxes that they pay. When the issue is put into that kind of perspective, when the city's bills need to get paid, the peddlers don't look quite so romantic after all.