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City panel recommends relaxing street vending rules, but not lifting permit caps

street vending
Street vendor Maria Falcon, who was arrested at the Broadway Junction subway station in April.
File photo by Dean Moses

A city panel on street vending published a new report outlining steps to cut red tape and decriminalize the sidewalk sellers Wednesday.

The so-called Street Vendor Advisory Board released its study of the industry as required by a 2021 city law with a set of recommendations, most of which will still need to be enacted through changes in the law by the City Council or the State Legislature in Albany.

The proposals seek to overhaul decades-old rules and frameworks around street hawking, but vendor advocates said they fall short of scrapping caps on the coveted permits needed to legally operate the businesses. 

The recommendations include repealing criminal misdemeanor penalties for vending; establishing dedicated city support for street vendors at the Department of Small Business Services; getting rid of specific rules, like not being allowed to keep goods on top of food carts; and making the Department of Transportation study allowing vendors at plazas, municipal parking facilities, and metered parking spots.

The report also proposes to the Council to explore creating so-called Community Vending Marketplaces to give vendors a space to sell goods in underserved communities like food deserts. 

“Together, we can balance the needs of street vendors, brick-and-mortar businesses, and residents. These recommendations do just that by cutting red tape, creating new opportunities for street vendors to operate legally, and improving access to healthy food throughout the five boroughs,” said Mayor Eric Adams in a statement.

The task force is made up of city agency reps, representatives from the Street Vendor Project, brick-and-mortar business interests like business improvement districts and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, as well as property owner advocates with the Real Estate Board of New York.

Mohamed Attia, executive director of Street Vendor Project, who sits on the panel, said the proposals were a good first step in getting rid of some of the ancient rules affecting the roughly 20,000 street vendors his group estimates operate across the Five Boroughs.

“The goal here is to make it not a crime anymore to sell in the streets of New York City,” Attia told amNewYork Metro.

Last month, cops at the Broadway Junction station in Brooklyn cuffed and strip-searched longtime local vendor Maria Falcon, who told this paper she felt “terrorized” by the Boys in Blue during the hours-long ordeal. 

Mayor Adams in response defended the police officers’ actions, saying “we have to follow the rules.”

Police arrest Falcon at the Broadway Junction station in Brooklyn on April 29.Street Vendor Project/Screenshot via Twitter

One of the key issues for the vendors is lifting current caps on licenses, which advocates like Attia have been pushing for.

But that did not make it into the slate of recommendations because of pushback from the brick-and-mortar business and real estate groups, the advocate said.

Permits have been limited for decades — depending on the type between 200 for borough-specific licenses to 3,000 pieces of paperwork to sell goods citywide, according to the report.

“These caps created underground markets for the food vending permits, and we also know that thousands of food vendors operate now unlawfully, not because they want to but because they can’t obtain a permit or a license from the city,” Attia said.

A 2019 effort to lift the cap in the state legislature has stalled, and the advocates are now shifting their focus to city government to undo the limitations.

“In the Council we have more champions and more supporters than ever before, so there’s really big potential here for the Council to take action and formalize this industry and make sure everybody is brought into the system,” said Attia.

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