Press "Enter" to skip to content

End of the vend? Park fountain plaza now mostly vendor-free

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Washington Square Park’s vendors were on edge Monday — literally. They had been pushed to the outer rim of the park’s historic plaza fountain. And they were, well…feeling a bit edgy about it.

So, in a rare sight, the heart of the park’s central plaza was basically free of vendors. (In something else that’s also uncommon for the park, no skateboarders were skating and doing tricks in front of the arch, either.)

A vendor selling artwork and books — and also pre-rolled marijuana joints hidden under her table — on the plaza’s southern outskirts, said police and Parks Enforcement Patrol officers recently ordered the vendors to follow some new rules. For starters, they notified them to stay out of the fountain plaza, and also to keep a bit of distance from the black benches that circle the space’s perimeter.

“They say [keep] 50 feet away from the fountain and 5 feet from the benches,” she said.

The woman declined to share her name.

The vendors were also told they can no longer use big beach umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun. She said police would confiscate the umbrellas.

“That’s inhumane,” she protested.

No other tables were in the main space of the plaza. (Photo by The Village Sun)

These “new” rules started being enforced about a week and a half ago, she said.

As for who has been telling the vendors about these regulations, she said, “The Parks [officers] and the cops — the cops mostly.”

However, one table — not a vendor’s — was set up too close to the fountain. A sign on it in Spanish urged people to write on a piece of paper something they wish they had told someone and drop it into a fishbowl atop the table.

But the vendor predicted, knowingly, “They’re gonna make him move.”

A vendor sold art and books — but also cannabis that was concealed from view under the table. (Photo by The Village Sun)

Meanwhile, she said she herself is doing nothing wrong — and is not selling drugs.

“Weed is legal,” she declared. “Weed itself is not a drug — it never has been. It’s a plant. It comes from the earth.”

Nearby her, a few other pot sellers were seated at their own tables, also hugging the plaza’s outer rim. One of them had some art displayed — including blown-up comic-book covers. Another had a sign saying, “Charging Station.” But their main business is selling pot. There were some vendors selling jewelry, too, which police believe falls under protected “expressive matter,” so they are allowing it.

At another spot along the circular market, another female weed vendor, when a reporter approached holding a notepad, quickly snatched away her small whiteboard sporting a list prices.

“Nah, nah,” she said. “We don’t want to talk.”

The Village Sun is reaching out to the 6th Precinct about the new enforcement effort to keep the fountain plaza free of vendors’ tables.

Weed vendors were pushed to the fountain plaza’s outer rim. (Photo by The Village Sun)

Robert Lederman, the president of A.R.T.I.S.T. (Artists’ Response to Illegal State Tactics), is a veteran street artist and activist who fights for artists’ constitutional right to vend on the city’s sidewalks and in its parks. He has litigated this issue all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court and, in doing so, become extremely well versed with the laws.

Lederman has always said that – based on the Parks Department’s existing vending laws — basically, vending is not legal anywhere in Washington Square Park. In fact, vending is not allowed in any New York City public park plaza, under the regulations, he said: The regs say vending must be done near a curb, he said, and there are no curbs in plazas.

“I told everybody since 2010 — if you actually read the park rules, which I do, but no one else does — there’s no vending in any plaza in any park,” the activist explained. “All they gotta do is go in there and enforce the law and they can clear the space,” he said of Washington Square Park.

In addition, vendors must stay 50 feet away from any monument — which, in Washington Square, includes the arch, the fountain and the Garibaldi statue, among others. Even a bronze plaque in the ground is technically a monument that vendors must stay away from, Lederman noted. Meanwhile, vending isn’t allowed on grass lawns or near trees, either.

Some New York City parks have a medallion system to designate a limited number of spots for artist vendors — such as Union Square, the High Line, Central Park and Battery Park — but that system hasn’t come to Washington Square Park — at least not yet.

The park felt open and not that crowded. (Photo by The Village Sun)

Lederman wasn’t that impressed by the new enforcement in Washington Square and pushing the vendors out to the edge of the plaza.

“They enforce it sporadically,” he shrugged. “Like with prostitution — enforcement comes and goes. It’s like everything else in the city.”

However, the activist said, over all, the city treats Washington Square Park pretty gently.

“Because it’s a cultural icon, the city doesn’t feel it can sterilize it completely, like Union Square,” he said. “If they do that to Washington Square Park, that’s like ripping up the ’60s, the counterculture, the Constitution, the First Amendment, hundreds of thousands of rallies that happened in the park.”

Asked why some vending is still being allowed around the plaza’s outer rim, Lederman said the police and Parks Department are just basically improvising, at this point.

“They’re making it up,” he said.

For example, jewelry, even handmade jewelry, generally isn’t considered expressive matter under the law — unless it has some message, for example, it’s a crucifix or some other religious symbol, he noted.

“I’m not complaining,” he said of jewelry vendors, “but you need a park permit or a vendor’s permit to vend.”

Vendors are supposed to use tables, but no tables legally can be set up anywhere in Washington Square Park under the rules, he noted. Vendors’ goods are not supposed to be displayed on the ground, either. Theoretically, though, someone could stand or sit in the park holding books or paintings for sale, he explained.


  1. Natalie Walshe Natalie Walshe September 3, 2023

    Can you legally set up a table on the outstde of the park? Along the railings? If you are selling art, written materials or any other things?(eg handcrafts, bags, decorations, not weed?) I have NY sales tax cert

  2. Anonymous Anonymous Post author | August 10, 2023

    There is an obvious misunderstanding that the artists are being unfairly targeted. For the decades I have lived here, non-amplified music and performances have been very welcomed. There has not been a clear delineation of performing artists legally abiding by the rules, as opposed to “artists” illegally selling merchandise, clogging the park with tables, chairs and umbrellas. Not allowing commercial sales of anything or loud amplified music is not sterilizing the park — it makes it equitable for all. This important distinction has not been effectively explained, yet is exactly the point of contention. A park is meant for everyone, including rule-abiding artists, and should not be commandeered for profit.

    Lederman has accurately stated the rules why and where vending isn’t allowed. However, his comment about the Washington Square Park Conservancy is ridiculous. If all it took was a call from a conservancy board member, vending in the park wouldn’t have happened to begin with. Personally, I don’t want the beauty of the park marred by commercialization of any type. That is not what parks are for. Vendors and artists displaying their work for profit can find an appropriate venue, even on a public sidewalk, where possible. Their revenues are not more important than residents, without enough open space to begin with.


  3. Justin M. Justin M. August 10, 2023

    I’m looking to control my ire at this article. Speaking to a vendor that doesn’t vend in this particular park and has no “skin in the game” in this arena is lazy journalism at best. There are vendors who are attempting to find solutions that both they and the WSPC can live with, and this article doesn’t speak to either party. There are anecdotal quotes from a “vendor” who chose to be anonymous about one person that isn’t a vendor that put up a table and was told to move, or about weed vendors which this action isn’t meant to address. Washington Square Park and the culture of art, vending and performance are being threatened by a wealthy WSPC that was put together under questionable circumstances using their political and financial weight to move law enforcement to harass vendors and artists. When I heard that an article was being written to address the issues, I was truly hopeful. Having read the resulting article, all I have is disappointment. This is not journalism.

    • The Village Sun The Village Sun Post author | August 10, 2023

      Appreciate your comment. Actually, the weed vending currently IS the main issue police are currently trying to address, at least when it comes to vending in the park. The vending of art is more complicated, in some respects, and we’ll be doing more detailed coverage of that.

  4. Chris jobson Chris jobson August 9, 2023

    This is really funny. I hear none of you people complaining about the crack or cocaine or heroin use in the park. But you people are worried about artists. When are you people going to address the part of the park where drug use is out in the open? This whole article does not address the real issue, which is the part of the park or the bathroom where you can see people shooting up. So you scared to walk by an artist but not someone doing hard drugs in your face? You people are funny.

  5. Carol from East 5th Street Carol from East 5th Street August 9, 2023

    The plaza around the fountain should not be turned into a free-for-all market. People come to the park to enjoy the fountain view, be soothed by the sound of the cascading water and enjoy the lush green surrounding landscape. It should be a respite from the bustling city not a busy market.. Vendors should only be allowed on the outer peripheries of the park.

    • Dale Dale August 9, 2023

      You’re speaking to what YOU come to the park for. Plenty of people go to the park to enjoy the artists and performers there. WSP has, for many decades been a place where visual artists, performers etc go to make, celebrate and show their work. There’s more than enough room for artists to share their work and for people to enjoy the fountain simultaneously.

  6. Darren Darren August 9, 2023

    Seems you purposely ignored the Artists issue or are just completely unaware of the real concerns of the Artists who are the Soul of Washington Sq Park

  7. Dale Dale August 9, 2023

    Despite what Robert states, he isn’t the only one who “reads the rules.” I and others are educated on the rules, as well. I have sold in the park for several years and have been aware of the rules the entire time. The primary issue now is the tolerance of artist presence, simultaneously in tandem with arbitrary enforcement. It’s a constant mixed message.

  8. Seth Seth August 8, 2023

    The park never was, and was never supposed to be, an outdoor bazaar. And marijuana is only allowed to be legally sold by licensed dispensaries, for multiple good reasons. Finally, the government is starting to push back against this lawlessness (which this country has no shortage of). Keep it up, NYPD and Parks Dept.! Hopefully, the reckless skateboarding inches from senior citizens will stop too.

  9. Erjon Marku Erjon Marku August 8, 2023

    Maybe next time take some pictures of the stand in front of the Arch @dabronxi, if anyone was chased away was Artists, you can’t play stupid @nypd and @nyparks, my design rules for thee but not for me plays into perfect affect for the misguided leadership of the fully funded hedge funds to please a few, the park has set rules for different people.

    I have been issued 2 summonses for displaying prices of which I am legally allowed since 2002, first one was dismissed and was surprised to get a second one. But the park sees me as an outsider even with 2 years in the park. I always put my stand in front of the Washington Square Arch, close to the seating area by the fountain. Lately the police have been lecturing me about my table size, that it needs to be 8ft by 3ft. No PEP officer has ever had a problem with table size, which I don’t mind, but let’s be frank, most other vendors don’t even have a table and work on the floor, but I have to do it by the book, I can’t make mistakes, because cops are 1 phone call away, which is ridiculous.

    I make a living doing this job, and most vendors are just for show, because they barely make a dollar, so the only people making a difference are the ones who are there every day, the news can ignore to see that but in reality, the people see that. I was even warned by a cop on video about my umbrella, inciting fear so I would leave the park, but I mellowed out and still made money in unbearable 100-degree weather. Now umbrellas are not the problem, but when they were kicking out the dealers from the fountain, it did become an issue.

    PS: This will never pass the moderators or this news, so let’s keep it on a good note, good job talking about the park in a good way.

    Erjon Marku – nothing for sale,
    everything for sale at the
    Washington Square Arch
    on sunny day’s.

    Promotion: Free 5×7 $5 Art Piece for anyone who does 50 consecutive pushups by my art stand. 10 cents a pushup

  10. Robert Lederman Robert Lederman August 8, 2023

    Contary to what most vendors imagine, vending enforcement is never initiated by the NYPD. In NYC Parks virtually all vending enforcement starts with a complaint from a Park Conservancy.

    All it takes is one phone call from a billionaire board member. In WSP the conservancy pretends it has no part in enforcement at the same time they are routinely pressuring the NYPD and the PEP officers to crackdown.

    The WSP Conservancies board of billionaires, corporate CEOs and a former Parks Commissioner who despises street artists and performers, wants the public to blame it all on the cops as if they are sending themselves to WSP. Pretending to be patrons of the arts while fundraising for more enforcement against artists and performers, the Washington Sq Park Conservancy is actively persecuting artists and privatizing a public space cultural icon.

    That a few pot dealers are allegedly posing as “artists” in no way justifies targeting legitimate artists and performers who are exercising their Federal Court approved First Amendment rights. The police can do a buy and bust of illegal drug vendors if they actually wanted to prevent pot dealing in WSP, which they apparently don’t want to do, most likely because the cases would never be prosecuted.

    In 2010 the park rules were rewritten by the same failed park commissioner now seated on the WSP board in order to make legal art vending and performing almost impossible in Parks. Since then NYC’s parks have been sterilized, corporatized and privatized. None of this has anything whatsoever to do with public safety, congestion or law and order.

    The Conservancies and the Parks Department make hundreds of millions of dollars a year from park concessions, renting out parks for corporate events and advertising promotions. The conservancies take a substantial cut from every permit, every concession, every phony “Holiday Market” stuffed with 200 vendors and every “special event.” Think I’m making this up? Here’s two former park commissioners on why artists rights threatens their cash cow privatization scheme:

    NY Sun August 14,2002 Parks Commissioner Planning a Crackdown On Venders of Artwork They’re `Out of Control, `He Says “But Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe says he sees the permits as a quality of life issue, not a First Amendment one. “The proliferation of private commerce in a public park has gotten out of control,” Mr. Benepe told the Sun. “We’re getting complaints from concessionaires who say their business is dropping.”

    Newsday 2/26/98 Artistic Licenses;
    City plans to limit art vendors outside Met “While denying that the new permit policy has anything to do with creating additional city revenue, Parks Commissioner Henry Stern said: “These are extremely valuable spaces, and people who sell hot dogs there pay $150,000 a year for the privilege, and may not want to set up next to an artist who is there for free.”

    These two news articles describe how the conservancy sneakily directs enforcement.
    Chasing Away ‘Hooligans,’ Hot-Dog Carts, and the Homeless in Washington Square Park
    By Kim Velsey, who is Curbed’s real-estate reporter

    • Eric Cook Eric Cook August 8, 2023

      Thank you for highlighting this issue. I would be happleased to discuss the ongoing artists actions that have hada positive effect on the over-enforcement. it is unfortunate we didn’t have a chace to speak before you went to press.
      Join us Wednesdays for 6 mins at 6 pm — the wsp artists standing up against the illegal abuse. THAT is your real story.

    • Truist Truist August 9, 2023

      Hey Robert. You sound nervous that you lost your street cred since you acknowledged the vending is illegal. Your answer, of course, attack the WSP Conservancy and so-called Billionaires. Well, I’m not rich but I am sure happy that the earners are putting their money into the park — instead of flying off to Palm Beach. Also, most members are not billionaires, but that doesn’t fit your radical-left narrative. Are you mad that you are NOT selling to them at the Armory show? BTW, this is a park, not a gallery, not a boutique, not a performance space, it’s park for all to enjoy. you pay no rent and Im sure little or no taxes and you want it all ? and who are the selfish entitled ones? How selfish, self-entitled and privileged.
      Clearly the situation as it stood is NOT acceptable. My family and I have avoided the park for 3 years. Each time its a foul, scary experience covered in a cloud of pot smoke. The fact is you and other so-called “artists” are a cover for the drug dealers. You killed the golden goose by allowing the park to get beyond control. Own it. We have no “holiday market” at WSP. The conversancies are a life saver — bring more of what they did at Madison Sq. Park and Bryant Park to WSP, if you ask me. It’s lovely and safe for all. And I mean all — everyone is welcome, provided you follow simple rules.
      Your righteous indignation is old. Grow up already.

  11. Ronny Ronny August 8, 2023

    When the pervasive drug dealers at the North West corner are gone it will be cause to celebrate. This is just bureaucratic (rhymes with machination), like giving tickets to the lady whose puppy is off leash.
    Get real and fix the obvious problems, we’re fed up.

Leave a Reply

Mission News Theme by Compete Themes.