BY ROBERT LEDERMAN | In New York State Assembly Bill No. A3575, it states, “…the legislature finds and declares that there should be no limit on the number of street vending permits and licenses that can be issued in the City,” and that this new law shall apply “…in every city with a population of one million or more.”
Under this law anyone with a folding table and anything to sell could now operate on city streets as a legal vendor. Have New York State legislators become zealous vending advocates who want to see tens or even hundreds of thousands of newly licensed vendors setting up stands along every commercial strip in every town and city in New York State?
Maybe not. Could there be a hidden agenda behind this magnanimous elimination of more than a hundred years of carefully constructed vending restrictions?
I’ve been an artist/street vendor in New York City since 1961. Elected officials in New York City have been passing laws for my entire lifetime to limit and restrict vending. The vast majority of the constituents of our elected officials, be they landlords, businesses, storeowners or residents, are opposed to vending.
In New York City, businesses grouped themselves into business improvement districts (BIDs), primarily in an attempt to eliminate their local vendors from every commercial strip in town.
Who are the constituents that New York legislators are trying to help with this proposed law? What might the secret agenda behind the law be?
If one understands the long history of this issue, it becomes clear.
Once the streets of every large city in New York State have been occupied by tens of thousands of newly minted vendors, there will be a huge outcry from landlords, businesses, storeowners and residents. The very same legislators that sponsored this law will be in the forefront, demanding drastic new restrictions on where, when or how a vendor can set up a stand.
This exact dynamic recently played out in California. Facing the reality of thousands of unlicensed vendors, officials created a seemingly generous vending law where anyone could get a license. Vendors and their advocates rejoiced until the complaints began flooding in from businesses, landlords, storeowners and residents. Within a few months drastic new restrictions were enacted that banned legal vendors from many of the locations where they had traditionally vended.
In New York City, the Street Vendor Modernization Act was recently passed. It was supposed to create thousands of
new vending licenses, significantly reduce summonses and open up more areas to vending.
Instead, no new licenses were issued, summonses and arrests doubled and the BIDs are now suggesting relocating vendors to parking lots and other remote locations.
How will New York State likely handle a massive increase in vending in its large cities if A3575 is passed? Simple: privatization via a concession system, where vendors compete to bid for a handful of desirable spots in which to sell.
This is the exact system that the New York City Department of Parks instituted decades ago and that the BIDs have been demanding for more than a decade. The vendors you see in the parks are corporate employees, often paid less than the minimum wage to operate food and souvenir vending stands. The prices for viable spots where a stand can make a profit range from a few thousand dollars to $250,000 for a single 8-foot-by-5-foot location. In most parks, a single corporation owns every vending stand.
The immigrant vendors these laws are pretending to be helping will be eliminated by this bidding system from any viable potential vending locations. If they survive at all, it will be as exiles in parking lot vending concessions run by a BID.
As a longtime vending advocate, I would love to see vending become unlimited. But as a realist who has debated this issue with mayors, legislators and police officials for decades, I know that unlimited vending would be its own worst enemy.
If helping those who are now out there legally vending is your purpose — whether they are lifelong state residents or newly arrived immigrants — then on behalf of those very vendors I ask legislators to vote NO on Assembly Bill A3575.
Lederman is president of A.R.T.I.S.T. (Artists’ Response to Illegal State Tactics), a street artist advocacy organization.