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Editorial | The city of opportunity

Street vendors were joined by elected officials seeking to push through Intro 1116 that would increase the number of street permits and remove the NYPD from enforcement for good.
Photo by Todd Maisel

Mayoral hopeful Andrew Yang ran afoul of the Twitterverse on Sunday when he tweeted that he had been hearing “over and over again” that the city isn’t doing enough to enforce “rules against unlicensed street vendors.”
“I’m for increasing licenses but we should do more for the retailers who are paying rent and trying to survive,” Yang added.
That tweet riled up many New Yorkers who believe that the opposite is true. Progressive activists in New York have been trying to increase the number of legal street vendors because the NYPD and the city have come down hard on illegal vendors on the streets in recent years. 
This was especially true before the pandemic. We remember with clarity the arrest of a young churro vendor at the Broadway Junction subway station in Brooklyn; the video of her, in tears, being arrested by police officers just for trying to make a buck was tough to watch.
Thankfully, the City Council voted in January to increase the number of available street vendor permits, opening the door of opportunity amid the pandemic with the added benefit of giving police one less quality-of-life issue to worry about. 
But that bristled some lawmakers who suggested that the increased vendor licenses would cause the unintended negative consequence of hurting brick-and-mortar small businesses. 
We’re not talking about big chain restaurants who can take the economic hit and keep going. Mom-and-pop restaurants struggling to make ends meet amid the pandemic will undoubtedly lose some business if they run up into further competition from vendors.
But this is a very big city with plenty of people, all of whom need to eat and are willing to pay for good food. Ours is a city of opportunity, and we need to ensure that anyone can make it here without favoring one sector of the economy over the other.
That means not only giving street vendors a boost, but it also means, as Yang said, giving small brick-and-mortar businesses the help they need to revive. The assistance from the federal government in recent months is a start, but the city could afford to seek other breaks for business on the tax and regulatory fronts.
The last thing our city needs, however, is more unnecessary enforcement against street vendors trying to do their job

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