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Chamber president urges City Council to halt legislation that would expand the number of street vendors in NYC

Friday, December 15, 2017

OP-ED: City Council's street-vendor bill would hurt small businesses

Lawmakers, in a heedless rush, have yet to hear from all stakeholders

By Thomas J. Grech and Jessica Walker

December 15, 2017

 

Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council have often demonstrated a crucial commitment to supporting the mom-and-pop grocery stores, bodegas and restaurants that give neighborhoods their vibrant character and local flavor. But the council is rushing to pass legislation to increase the number of street-vendor permits, which would take us in the wrong direction by hurting these small businesses and making it even harder for them to stay open.

Flying in the face of transparency and good-government principles, the council has not taken time to receive stakeholder feedback or inform the public about the true impact of this last-minute legislation. Simply put, ramming this bill through would be a grave mistake.

To fully understand this situation, it must be recognized that concerns around the influx of street vendors are not limited to a few of the busiest parts of Manhattan. Small businesses in Brooklyn and Queens have struggled for years because of problems caused by a longstanding failure to adequately regulate street vending.

While businesses such as grocery stores, bodegas and restaurants are held to strict, heavily enforced standards, even as rents continue to rise, street vendors operate under much looser, virtually nonexistent regulations. The result is an unequal playing field that has, sadly, had a direct role in pushing many outer-borough small businesses to the brink of closure.

To be clear, street vendors are an important part of the fabric of our city, providing economic opportunity for thousands of New Yorkers. These hardworking entrepreneurs have a central place in our neighborhoods and they—alongside brick-and-mortar stores—are part of healthy communities. In fact, one of the biggest problems with the City Council's legislation is that an unchecked expansion of vendor permits would enable large, citywide street-vending operators to grow further and displace both independent street vendors and brick-and-mortar small businesses.

Think of your favorite local deli or niche restaurant—one that really makes you feel at home in your community. Now imagine that a large street-vending operator, seeing the foot traffic in that location, places one or two carts along the same block. While your go-to shop continues to pay high rent and operating costs, those vending carts begin to take away customers and leave the shop with less business, making it harder than ever to pay the bills. And while the sidewalk has become more crowded with loosely regulated carts, your favorite spot is now at risk of shutting down.

These are the real impacts of passing flawed legislation that opens the floodgates for street-vending permits. Mom-and-pop stores will suffer, and our communities will lose vital parts of what make them so great. Independent vendors will not benefit and will instead be overwhelmed by massive cartels that take every opportunity to fill whole blocks with their carts.

But there is still time for the City Council to make things right. This bill must be tabled until council members can fully explain this issue to the public, engage in a real dialogue with stakeholders and make necessary changes to avert a disastrous outcome.

This is a council that has in the past held thoughtful hearings and taken real action to explore and address the challenges faced by small businesses across our city. The same approach must be taken here. The voices of small businesses and local communities must be heard.

We want to get this right. Everyone agrees the system needs comprehensive reform. But if council members rush this legislation through at the 11th hour, they will hurt everyone: street vendors, small businesses, the public and our city's democracy.

 

Thomas J. Grech is the president and CEO of the Queens Chamber of Commerce. Jessica Walker is the president and CEO of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce.