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By John Catsimatidis
New York City should not move forward with proposals to raise or eliminate the cap on the number of street vendor permits until we reform the current regulations. Officials must have a full understanding of the impact that these mobile vendors have on brick-and-mortar businesses, and the union employees that work in many of them, as well as the impact that street vendors have on the quality of life in our neighborhoods.
Sadly, today in too many neighborhoods, our business owners, including many of the “mom and pop” stores we all grew up with, are facing unfair competition from street vendors. Brick-and-mortar business owners are being asked to pay higher rents and insurance premiums, and are burdened with excessive regulations, fines, and taxes. They are also competing with street vendors who are parked just a few feet away from their locations, selling similar products for much less because they simply do not have these same overhead costs and intense scrutiny by city agencies. It is time that our city creates comprehensive and clear guidelines governing all street vendors, that includes preventing them from operating within at least 200 feet of an established business, and working with local community boards to ensure that the quality of life on our streets are not negatively affected by their presence.
It is the brick-and-mortar businesses that are the backbone of our communities and provide jobs to local residents. These are also the same businesses that are least able to afford the unfair competition from street vendors with little overhead, selling cheaper products. For smaller mom and pop stores, losing customers to a street vendor means losing revenue needed to stay afloat. For larger businesses, including supermarkets, losing sales due to a fruit cart right outside can cause layoffs or the reduction of hours of union employees in the produce department.
I started my first business from scratch when I was in my twenties. I know firsthand the incredible hard work, long hours, and personal and financial investment involved in opening and running a neighborhood store. I remember the constant worry in those early years about making a payroll and paying the bill because I knew my employees were counting on me each week for their paycheck so they could pay the rent and feed their families. These concerns still exist today for business owners, and city officials must take them into account as they consider proposals that would benefit street vendors at the expense of other businesses.
In fact, several years ago in southwest Brooklyn, Community Boards 10 and 11, the 86th street BID, and officials of both political parties united in a request to the city Department of Small Business Services to include mobile food carts as part of the BID’s street vendor-free zone. This zone in Bay Ridge, between 4th Avenue and Fort Hamilton Parkway on 86th street, was created by the city decades ago because of the high volume of pedestrian and vehicular traffic.
There has been and continues to be tensions between street vendors, local community members and business owners throughout New York City that must be comprehensively addressed. Street vendors have every right to make a living and follow their American Dream, as I followed mine, however this should not be at the expense of other small businesses, and should not interfere with the quality of life in our communities.
We must enact policies that promote fairness amongst all types of entrepreneurs. New York City has to ensure a level playing field between all business owners from “mom and pop” stores, supermarkets, to mobile food carts, and implement city policies that allow businesses of all kinds to open, grow, and expand to create more jobs. Blindly permitting the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs to increase or eliminate the cap on the number of street vendor permits is not a prudent action for our City Council.
John Catsimatidis is a businessman and was a candidate for mayor in 2013.