Friday, December 15, 2006

Vending the Rules

In today's NY Daily News our good friend Errol Louis opines about the plight of the poor street vendors. It is a classic case of misplaced sympathy; not because most of these hawkers are don't work hard often under extremely trying conditions. But because Errol's real concerns should be for the folks who are running the stores, often selling the same goods that are being sold on the street right in front of the retailers who are paying rent, taxes, and yes, also being hit by the various city agencies for fines and violations designed more for the sheer collection of money rather than for any real protection of the public good.

It is simply not fair for the city to allow for the further proliferation of peddlers, something that Louis and the Street Vendor Project calls for, while the retailers who provide the bulk of employment in the city and support the tax base are made to compete on an unlevel playing field. The license to vend is a few hundred dollars a year. If the city wants more street vendors the first thing it should do is to cut the commercial real estate tax in half!

After all, the commercial real estate tax that was raised by 25% in 2002 was effectively a comparable rent increase for all the store owners of the city. Neighborhood retailers are the backbone of New York's economy and they shouldn't be forced to compete with peddlers who pay no rent, taxes and clog up the streets threatening pedestrian safety.

As for the fruit and vegetable peddler plague that we have been commenting on for the last year, in what lexicon of fairness can you allow a fruit seller to set up shop right in front of a supermarket, a store that may be paying as much as $500,000 a year in real estate taxes alone? Then, when the peddler continually is allowed to undesell the store and the store must let some of its union workers go because of thousands of lost weekly sales dollars, how does the city benefit?

And one other thing. There are roughly 9,000 food vendor licenses and only about half as many food cart permits. What does this mean? It means that cart permit owners are hiring licensees to work for them. Is anyone checking the wages, benefits and working conditions of these contract laborers? There are fruit carts operating on 86th Street on the East Side of Manhattan that are going all night long, seven days a week. Is that just one struggling vendor?

Come on Errol, save the rachmones for the store owners and their workers and take a look at the situation from their perspective. Trust us, it will be a real eye-opener.