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Vending enforcement spikes in Washington Square Park

BY THE VILLAGE SUN | A tip the newspaper received claiming that somehow regulations against vending in Washington Square Park have loosened is untrue, according to both the 6th Precinct and the Parks Department.

In fact, the number of summonses issued for vending are through the roof, according to Crystal Howard, Parks assistant commissioner for communications.

“Our vending rules have not changed,” Howard told The Village Sun. “And, while our goal is always to educate parkgoers on our rules first and foremost, from January to August this year, we issued more summonses for unlawful vending than we have over the past six years combined.

T-shirts for sale in Washington Square last month. (Photo by The Village Sun)
(Photo by The Village Sun)
Sometimes Washington Square Park can look a bit like the Garment District. (Photo by The Village Sun)

“We continue to collaborate with N.Y.P.D. to address unauthorized vending and other conditions in Washington Square Park and we hope to continue to be successful.”

Howard provided the following statistics showing summonses issued in the Greenwich Village park for unlawful vending during the previous five years, plus the eight-month period from January to August of this year:

2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
2 1 1 0 29 71

The stats mirror the boom in vending that has occurred in the park in recent years, with barely any summonses at all — a grand total of four — from 2017 to 2020, and then a spike to 29 tickets in 2021, with that amount already more than doubled this year through the end of this August.

Books for sale on a sliding scale, with the proceeds going to fight the construction of the “Cop City, model police-training town” in Atlanta that would be built on the site of a forest. (Photo by The Village Sun)

“During recent joint operations,” Howard added, “we have issued multiple summonses to vendors in violation of Parks rules. We will continue to coordinate with N.Y.P.D. and adjust our approach as needed. Our PEP [Park Enforcement Patrol] officers’ first course of action is to educate parkgoers to our rules; if not followed, the next step would be to issue a summons, and only in extremely rare circumstances would we effectuate an arrest.

“Any vending operations on public property must receive the proper approvals from the appropriate city agencies and related partners. Please see our Regulated Uses for more information. Please see our expressive matter vending rules for more details on approved vending.”

Jewelry vendors’ tables in the park this past June. (Photo by The Village Sun)

Similarly, Deputy Inspector Stephen Spataro of Greenwich Village’s 6th Precinct said vending enforcement in Washington Square is not slacking off.

“Vending is not allowed in the park, especially not marijuana dealing,” he said. “However, First Amendment-protected materials, such as books and handmade materials, are allowed.”

An art vendor’s dog poked its head out from under a table in Washington Square Park this June. It’s legal to vend art, like books, since it’s classified as protected, First Amendment “expressive matter,” as in freedom of speech. (Photo by The Village Sun)

The Parks Department’s Howard did not respond to a request for a breakdown of the kind of vendors that received summonses, such as, for example, how many were pot vendors or clothing vendors.

Carmen, who did not give her last name, was selling her personal brand of Lanayah’s Liquid Zaza THC-infused drinks near the park’s fountain one day last month.

She makes the beverages — in hibiscus or lemonade flavors — using a tincture, the process behind which she refused to divulge, saying she was not about to give away her secret recipe. They cost $30 a bottle, but just a small sip is all that’s needed to do the trick, providing relaxation and a great night’s sleep, she assured. She was giving out free sips to potential customers.

She said she gives a portion of her proceeds to the children of a friend of hers who died.

It was only Carmen’s second day selling in the park. The police had been around, giving her a warning about selling weed but not a ticket.

“They came by earlier and told me to take my pre-rolls off the table,” she said.


  1. Robert Lederman Robert Lederman November 18, 2022

    As the lead plaintiff in the Federal lawsuits that made it legal to vend art in any NYC Park, I am constantly amazed at how much disinformation NYC officials put out about the rules for vending. Part of the reason for the confusion in Washington Square Park is that the Parks Department constantly lies about the park rules, routinely issues misinformation on what the rules are and enforces the rules in a completely arbitrary way.

    Take this quote for example, “Any vending operations on public property must receive the proper approvals from the appropriate city agencies and related partners.” In reality, First Amendment-protected vendors do NOT need “approval” by the Parks Dept, the local park conservancy or any other “partners.”

    Another misstatement by officials quoted in the article is, “However, First Amendment-protected materials, such as books and handmade materials, are allowed.” The NYC vending rules do not make any distinction between handmade and machine made or mass produced, nor does making an object yourself automatically make it First Amendment protected.

    As far as the pot vending, you can’t blame people for thinking it is legal to vend drugs in WSP when the police, the PEP and the Washington Sq Park Conservancy have allowed it to proliferate from tables and stands for many months.

    The underlying reason for all the misinformation and deception is that when the Parks Dept rewrote the vending rules in 2010, they made them so absurdly restrictive that, while First Amendment vending remains 100% legal and needs no permission, in WSP there is not a single legal space due to the excessive distance-from-objects rules that require a 15-foot-wide sidewalk (no sidewalk that wide exists in WSP); a 5-foot-wide distance from trees and benches and signs; and a 50-foot distance from any monument, fountain or plaque. If the City actually enforced the rules in WSP, no musician, artist, book vendor or performer could legally work there. Park concessions have no similar restrictions.

    Such enforcement against artists and performers would lead to bad publicity for the Parks Dept and the Conservancy, so they barely enforce the rules until things get completely out of hand. Then they arbitrarily crack down, issue a lot of bogus summonses and attempt to intimidate all the vendors.

    What’s the solution? dump the 2010 rules, reinstate the reasonable rules from before 2010 and then enforce those rules consistently and accurately.

    • Sandman Sandman November 19, 2022

      100% true. There is only one space that fits the criteria above that Robert describes. It’s on the west side circle, opposite the Bessemer Statue and it’s literally 10-feet diameter with the edge being 5 feet from the bench.

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