Friday, November 14, 2008

Vexing Vendor Battle

AS NY1 is reporting, the City Council will be facing a street vendor battle today, as a number of bills will be discussed at a hearing of the body's consumer affairs committee: "Street vendors hawking their wares on busy city streets seem as much a part of the fabric of New York as the city's sky scrappers and yellow taxis. But there is a fierce fight underway over the size of the industry, with the city council scheduled to hold a hearing on bills that would change the volume of street vending in the city."

One bill in particular, Intro 324, would lift the current cap entirely: "We want to see that the cap is lifted and give us some elbow room so we can function," said Grace Aydin of the Street Vendor Project. Brooklyn Councilman Charles Barron has 11 co-sponsors for this bill to lift the cap on street vendor licenses to 25,000. He calls the current restrictions absurd." The cap is currently 4,000.

What this all sets up is a battle between those who want to flood the streets with peddlers, and those neighborhood retailers, labor and community groups represented by the Alliance, who are concerned about the impact of the current complement of vendors-let alone an additional 20,000 or so-on the small businesses and the neighborhoods that they serve. The Alliance's coalition will be holding a press conference today at city hall at 12:30 (advisory attached).

Put simply, communities and small businesses are under siege-with bankruptcies on the rise; it's not the time to increase the non tax paying peddlers on the street to unfairly compete with the stores. We need to develop policies that enhance, not impede small store growth.

Intro 324 is based on a false premise; as we say in our legislative memo:

"This proposed Intro, is a direct threat to the thousands of neighborhood retailers who are struggling in an era of rising rents, higher taxes, and increased regulatory abuse; it is a bad idea built on a false premise. The rationale for the legislation states: “Vending not only adds to the commercial and cultural value of the City, but also provides vendors the opportunity to be self-sufficient, work legitimately, and support themselves and their families. Vending has historically enabled those with few or no other economic options – such as recent immigrants and small business entrepreneurs – to realize the American dream of advancing themselves through their own hard work, and to provide their children with greater opportunities than they had themselves.”

The reality is that neighborhood retailing, and the wholesale suppliers that distribute the goods sold in neighborhood stores, have provided recent immigrants with tremendous opportunities-ones that have been taken advantage of, as the roster of neighborhood store owners is filled with the names of immigrant entrepreneurs. Vendor proliferation threatens these store owners, while at the same time threatening the city’s tax base in a period of economic meltdown.

The basic problem with all of these bills is one of enforcement-or rather the lack of any real enforcement effort, particularly on the veggie peddlers operating brazenly right in front of retailers selling the same goods. As we will tell the council today:

"There is so little enforcement being done by the city, that the current crop of licensed food cart peddlers aren’t being regulated-particularly when compared to the oversight regimen that local food stores are subjected to. The way to insure the health of the city’s citizens is to create the kind of economic climate where green grocers, bodegas, and supermarkets, are able to flourish in the over 250 city neighborhood shopping strips."

What needs to be done is to craft legislation that will create a dedicated enforcement unit of the DCA amd DOH in combination. This needs to be done so that we can begin to create the kind of health business climate that will nurture store growth and an increase in local employment. Currently, New York State is ranked 49th on the Small Business Survival Index, an indication that high taxes and over regulation stifles business success here. Peddling simply adds to the list of burdens.

Press Advisory
Small businesses, labor and community leaders protest peddling laws

When: Friday, November, 14, 2008

Where: City Hall Steps

Time: 12:30 PM

On Friday, November 14th, a diverse coalition of community, labor and small business groups will gather on the steps of City Hall, along with selected elected officials, to protest the peddler anarchy that exists on the streets of New York. The press conference comes on the heels of a City Council hearing on a slew of bills that address the peddling issue.

Unfortunately, from the standpoint of the coalition, all of the pending legislation fails on one key point: there is no attempt to create the kind of enforcement mechanism that can protect communities and their businesses from peddlers that ignore the law with impunity. As Sung Soo Kim of the Korean American Small Business Service Center says; “Our neighborhood businesses are under siege, with bankruptcies and foreclosures at an all time high. Small retailers need to be protected from a proliferation of non taxpaying merchants that set up shop, often directly in front of struggling businesses.”

From a labor perspective, many of the neighborhood supermarkets that have union work forces are seeing business transfer from the stores into the streets; and the peddlers are often not entrepreneurs, but workers who are peddling under extremely adverse conditions.

On the community side, residents of many neighborhoods from all over the city complain about dangerous pedestrian traffic situations caused by peddlers who clog the streets and contribute to the decline of a neighborhoods quality of life. The entire coalition believes that the city needs to create a dedicated enforcement agency so that the current rules are enforced. Without such enforcement, any changes in the existing peddling laws are useless.

The group is particularly concerned with Intro 324, a bill that would lift the current cap on the number of peddlers in the streets. Such legislation would increase the chaos that already exists. As Steve Barrison of the Small Business Congress points out; “Certainly, a rational enforcement system needs to precede any additions or tinkering with the current laws.” The group is working on drafting such enforcement legislation.

Contact: Richard Lipsky (914-572-2865)