Street vendors frustrate business owners

Make text smaller Make text larger


  • At a march in favor of the Street Vendor Modernization Act in July 2016. Photo: Nancy Chuang

  • At a July 2016 march in favor of the Street Vendor Modernization Act. Photo: Nancy Chuang


A task force requests that a “city entity” be created to oversee new food locations

By Madeleine Thompson

It was a move born of frustration. Last week the Community Board 8 Vendor Task Force passed a resolution — pending approval by the full board — to request that a “city entity be formed to address and oversee locations for food and general merchandise street vendors.” In response to business owners’ complaints that a wave of new street vendors has been intruding on revenues since the opening of the Second Avenue subway, the task force requested that such an entity be established to process and respond more directly to community input.

A bundle of legislation known as the Street Vendor Modernization Act, which was introduced into the City Council last fall, proposes to do just this by creating an advisory panel to model the bills’ rollout, as well as by increasing the number of vending permits available and updating the rules for street vending. “The system in which [vendors] have been licensed and regulated has been dysfunctional for years,” Council Member Mark Levine, a major sponsor of the bills, said in October. “The establishment of a Street Vendor Advisory Board and the creation of a first-of-its-kind Office of Street Vendor Enforcement will ensure fairness and consistency in the way street vendors are regulated.”

While the new Second Avenue subway was under construction, Upper East Side business owners suffered waning profits behind tall fences and roadblocks that hindered customer access. Mary Silva, owner of Maz Mezcal on East 86th Street, estimated last fall that her business had declined between 30 and 50 percent. Now, some business owners are saying the influx of street vendors is hurting their recovery. “With all the vendors there in front of the restaurant, we’ve started to suffer again,” Francisco Quijada, who owns an interior design shop at East 72nd and Second Avenue, said at last Tuesday’s meeting. “My business begins to smell like a rotting egg with all the vendors, all that smoke, all this cooking.”

Michele Birnbaum, co-chair of the vendor task force, said after the meeting that vendors’ locations are a main focus of the committee. “[Vendors] tend to go in front of a business that sells like merchandise,” she said. “When the Second Avenue subway opened and the construction materials were removed you were left with this corridor of open sidewalk, so it was an invitation for vendors to line up.”

But brick-and-mortars weren’t the only ones desperate for the new line to open; street vendors who had been in the area just as long were displaced entirely. Sean Basinski, director of the Street Vendor Project, has heard the community board’s claims before. “[CEO of Gristedes Foods] John Catsimatidis used to complain that there were all these vendors outside of his stores ... and so we went to every one, and there were five or six vendors that were across the street or down the block, and there were zero that were selling right out in front,” said Basinski, calling the members of the task force “professional complainers.”

He added that he often hears racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic undertones in the conversations held on this topic. “Sometimes they have no particular complaint about vendors except that there are vendors,” Basinski said. “I live on the Upper East Side, so I can say that about my neighborhood.” Basinski credited Council Member Ben Kallos with getting local business owners to “see the vendors as a positive resource,” and cited a recent compromise with the East 72nd Street Neighborhood Association over one vendor’s intrusive neon sign as an example of the vendors’ willingness to have a dialogue with the community.

Attendees at the community board meeting last week also spoke out against the Street Vendor Modernization Act more generally. Armando Crescenzi, a member of the Veterans First organization, called the push for more street vending permits “an abomination.” Expressing frustration over the difficulty of acquiring permits for veterans and those with disabilities, Crescenzi suggested that areas that want more street vendors be required to petition for them. Under the Street Vendor Modernization Act, 35 of the 600 additional permits issued by the Department of Health would be reserved for veterans and those with disabilities.

Madeleine Thompson can be reached at

Make text smaller Make text larger



Image Four openings and a funeral
The 38-year-old Westside Market is leaving its cozy if cramped space on Broadway and 77th Street, but the grocer plans to open four new Manhattan stores
Image Forks and fashion
SVA students created offbeat designs made out of silverware, pennies and tea bags and for a Madison Avenue BID event
Image Measuring bike safety
Stats show drop in East Side cyclist and pedestrian injuries
Image Raising the roof at Chapin
The elite East Side girls’ school has embarked on its second skyward expansion in 10 years to fulfill its academic mission and keep students “under one roof”...
Image A monumental achievement
A century after women won the right to vote in New York and Central Park will get its first monument dedicated to real women.



Sign up to get our newsletter emailed to you every week!

  • Enter your email address in the box below.
  • Select the newsletters you would like to subscribe to.
  • Click the 'SUBSCRIBE' button.

* indicates required
Neighborhood Newsletters


Local News
Making a Splash in Times Square
  • Nov 15, 2017
City Arts News
Contemplating the divine
  • Nov 17, 2017
Local News
Four openings and a funeral
  • Nov 17, 2017
Local News
Up to code
  • Nov 15, 2017
Local News
Raising the roof at Chapin
  • Nov 13, 2017
Local News
Messing with my mom’s legacy
  • Nov 14, 2017
Local News
Measuring bike safety
  • Nov 14, 2017
By any other name
  • Nov 15, 2017
Local News
When bad drugs do good
  • Nov 14, 2017
City Arts News
The long road to a masterpiece
  • Nov 15, 2017