Op-Ed: Street Vending From Harlem To Hollis, Yay Or Nay

January 22, 2024

By Marco Shalma

In the vibrant streets of New York City, the debate surrounding street vending is multi-layered, encompassing both regulatory concerns and the need for comprehensive education.

This issue, often framed by groups like the Street Vendor Project (SVP) as a matter of social justice, is actually rooted in the complexities of social constructs and legal frameworks.

To add context, let’s consider the market vendors in NYC, predominantly immigrant families who have chosen to operate within the system by adhering to regulations, obtaining licenses, and participating in legitimate, well-marketed food festivals. This choice highlights the importance of operating within a structured legal framework.

Here’s why regulation and education are essential before considering changes to the law:


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1. Public Health and Safety: Regulation ensures that vendors meet health and safety standards, which is crucial for preventing health hazards and protecting the public.

2. Fair Competition: Proper regulation fosters fair competition between street vendors and brick-and-mortar businesses, maintaining a balanced marketplace.

3. Quality Control: Regulations uphold product and service quality standards, ensuring customer satisfaction and trust.

4. Urban Order and Aesthetics: Regulating street vendors contributes to orderly public spaces and enhances urban aesthetics.

5. Tax and Revenue Compliance: Regulations ensure vendors contribute to tax revenues and are accounted for in economic statistics, supporting equitable public services and infrastructure.

In New York City’s street vending debate, education is paramount. Educating vendors about legal requirements enhances compliance and responsible vending, akin to food safety workshops that have improved health standards. Support in obtaining permits and insurance, similar to Los Angeles’ vendor empowerment programs, is vital for fair competition and a level playing field.

An educated vendor base builds public trust through quality and safety, aligning with the growing call for equitable business practices. Including vendors in the formal economy benefits both the vendors and the city’s economic health. This approach, mirrored in cities like Portland, helps vendors contribute to the city’s tax base and economic narrative. Education transforms the street vending landscape, ensuring responsible and inclusive growth that benefits vendors, consumers, and the community.

“… best solution … education and integrating vendors into the economy …”

In my opinion, the best solution for NYC’s street vending challenges is to focus on education and integrating vendors into the formal economy. This approach, rather than hastily changing laws, ensures a fair, safe, and economically beneficial environment, uplifting the vending sector and maintaining the city’s legal and social integrity.

Related: Velazquez Chairs Street Vending Oversight, Reviews Legislation Affecting NYC Vendor Operations.

Marco Shalma

Marco Shalma is the owner and founder of MHG, producer, and promoter of The Bronx, Brooklyn, Uptown, Latin, and the Vegan Night Markets. Marco has been working with, advocating for, and supporting small and local businesses since 2016, changing the NYC food festival scene by focusing on community and culture. https://www.maschospitalitygroup.com/

Photo credit: NYC Street Vendor.

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