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From the beginning, street vending has been a common economic strategy for newcomers to New York City, and from the beginning city administrators have been faced with the challenge of managing and regulating vending activity. The phenomenon of street vending presents a unique problem, especially in a city such as New York. Informal street vending serves an important purpose, especially in immigrant neighborhoods. From the itinerant Irish and African American peddlers of the Five P i snh 16’ t t Jws ad ti pscrm r aton the Lower East Side o tit 80s oh e i n I ln uha e hn n e , e h aa t c s it 12’ tt Mei nSenegalese and Chinese vendors of today, vending has nh 90s oh e , e x a, c served as a source of employment for newcomers and an important source of low cost goods for immigrant consumers (Gaber 1993). As it has been for decades, informal vending is an important lubricant of commercial and social life in immigrant neighborhoods. On the other hand, many taxpaying, formal businesses see informal vendors as unfair competition. Real estate interests also tend to see informal street vendors as a blight and a detriment to property values. From time to time, city administrators are pressured by these interest groups to “o o e i ” d sm t n about the street vending problem. A successful crackdown takes a large hg amount of resources, and the political benefits are often limited. Nevertheless, crackdowns have occurred over the course of history. The objective of this paper is to explore the economic, political and regulatory contexts of two vending crackdownsFoeo a uri s ao t pscr dr gh 13’ad uo h i i i i l L G a a w r nh uha s ui t 90s n R dl Gu a ’ rl d’ e t n e p ln s
cm a n gi tt evnos n 2tSr tui t 19’ iodro ne t d a pi aa ssetedro 15 t edr gh 90s n retudra g n r h e n e , sn when, why and how crackdowns on street vending occur.
Regulation and the Informal Economy
The informal economic sector is by definition created by the state. The state makes the laws, and laws determine what is legal economic activity and what is illegal. Before discussing how regulations and the state shape, define and create the informal sc riwlb ue lo l i w aeat im atyh t m“ fr aeoo y. et , i e sf t c ry htxcys en b t e i om lcnm ” o t l u af l e r n In its broadest sense, the informal economy means any economic transaction that takes place outside the regulatory apparatus. Saskia Sassen refines the definition a bit, stating that informal economic activity involves “ e rdco ad a o gosht t pout n n sl f od t h i e a are licit, but produced and/or sold outside the regulatory apparatus covering zoning, tax, hah n sf ym n u w g l sad t rye o s na s (Sassen 1988, 1). el ad a t i m m aea ,n o et s ft dr ” t e, i w h p a d The distinction made here by Sassen between licit and illicit goods in an important one for both analytical and theoretical purposes. The informal economy, according to this line of thought is not the same as what has been termed the “ne rud o c m nlcnm ( ae19) The key distinction between the udr on” rr i eoo y G br 93. g i a informal and criminal economy lies with the good being produced or sold. Unlike the informal economy, whose goods are licit, the criminal or underground economy involves the production and/or sale of goods that are themselves illegal. Although the line is important to draw, it can become blurry when discussing informal vending. First let us look at a cut and dry example: both the production and sale of cocaine is illegal in New York. There is no way (that I am aware of) that a person can purchase legally produced cocaine in the city. The good itself is illegal and illegal under
any circumstances. On the other hand pirated DVDs and bootleg purses, two items commonly sold by unlicensed vendors, can be more difficult to define. I place the sale of these items in the informal economy based on the following rationale. Purses and DVDs as a commodity can be bought and sold legally across the city. The goods themselves are legal. What makes these goods illegal is the way they are produced, therefore, sale of
1 t s im f Ss ns e n i o t i om lcnm . h et si as ’df io fh n r aeoo y e e t e itn e f
Understanding how the state creates and regulates informality has been an important concern of many scholars. The most influential work on this topic has been done Patricia Fernandez Kelly and Anna Garcia. According to these authors there are two fundamental aspects of the state which play a role in creation of the informal sector. First, e tes n u nm u at . te “rnt ps v r l t n o t s tia at o os c r Sa s a oa as ee e i s f h a o o t e i f co sc eoo iad o tapoess(e adz ey n G r a 9920. a e oi cnm c n pli lrcs ” r ne K l ad a i18,5) R t r o ic e Fn l c h they are able to enact policies in a relatively autonomous manner, paying close attention to, but still largely independent of socioeconomic pressures. The second characteristic involves the structure of governmental authority in the United States. On the national and the local level, decision making power in the U.S. is fragmented among a number of semi-autonomous, sometimes competing jurisdictions ad gni . h f g eti “f n ed t cn aioy r te ad o c s n aec s T i r m n t n ot l so ot d t pa i s n pli ” e sa ao e a r c r cc ie (ibid, 250). These contradictory practices and policies in turn, open the door to informal activity.
Note a contradiction here. Both bootleg DVDs and sweatshop produced clothing violate laws dealing with production. In is interesting to note that in the case of bootleg DVDs, whose illegal production methods injure only corporations, the sale of these products is strictly forbidden. Neither licensed nor unlicensed businesses can sell bootleg DVDs. However, in the case of clothing, whose illegal production methods violate labor laws and affect workers, the sale of these items is permitted. It is not illegal for a retailer to sell clothing produced in violation of labor laws. An interesting contradiction, but a topic for another paper.
The autonomy of the state as a decision making entity coupled with the fragmented nature of authority are two critical facts to keep in mind when studying the relationship between regulations and the informal economy. These two factors are endemic attributes of states, and are present in every municipality in the country. However, informal activity is not present to the same degree everywhere. While variations in informal economic activity of course have much to do with local economic conditions, local states also actively influence the degree to which informal activity is present. Fernandez Kelly and Garcia identify three ways municipalities actively encourage the formation of the informal economy: (1) legislation, (2) enforcement, and (3) contradictory agency mandates. I d cs n l iao’e eto i om lcv y e adz ey n G r a n i us g e s t ns f c n n r aat i Fr ne K l ad a i s i g li f s f it n l c focus on the tendency for legislation to create loopholes or grey areas in the laws that encourage informal activity to emerge. In the case of labor regulations, they show that t i om lcnm “a b ae d eed g n nm g av ap ct n fao h n r aeoo y cn e lr dpni o a i ai t e plao o l r e f te n ni i i b l iao”i d23. nh cs o seted gl iao a o l s n m ot t e s t n ( i 5) I t ae ft evni , g li l p y a i pr n g li b, e r n e s tn s a a role in creating the informal sector, but in a different manner than that demonstrated by t at r Iintopo sn e Y r’set ed g a shtnor e h u os ts ol hl iN w okst evni l t ecua e h . o e r n w a g informality, but quite the contrary, it is the overly restrictive nature of the laws that drives many vendors to do business informally. A look at the current New York City vending regulations provide an excellent example of this process. Immigrant entrepreneurs looking to become legal street vendors face a number of barriers. Applications and all necessary information are available in English only and one must be a citizen or legal resident to apply for a license. This certainly makes
obtaining a license inconvenient for some and impossible for others. There is, however, another more fundamental barrier to becoming a legal street vendor in New York: the city will not let you. Currently, with only a few exceptions, no one, citizen or undocumented immigrant, native English speaker or non-English speaker can obtain legal authorization to sell goods on the street in New York City. In 1988 former mayor Ed Koch instituted a cap on licenses that limited the number of legal vendors to 853 general merchandise vendors (under the jurisdiction of the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs) and 3,000 mobile food vendors (under the jurisdiction of the Department of Health) (Gaber 1993). The number of vending licenses remains the same today as it was in 1988. The static nature of the license cap does not reflect a lack of demand. On the contrary, there are over one thousand people currently on the waiting list to obtain a general merchandise vending license.2 The waiting time for a license is over 25 years and as a consequence, even the waiting list is now closed. If a prospective vendor visits the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) Business Licensing Guide online, he or she receives the following d ha ei m s g:T e C w in lto nn i er n g es e“ h D A ai i fr o-veteran applicants is currently s t n a tg s closed. The waiting list will not re-open for further registration until we have run through the current pool of non-vt a ap cn ” e r plat 3 en i s The above message does mention one of the few exceptions to the general merchandise vending cap. In 1894 New York State passed a law granting special consideration to street vendors who are veterans. This archaic law, which has been
NYC Business Solutions Street Vending Guide. Available online at http://www.nyc.gov/html/sbs/html/nycbs/pdfs/pdfs_bsc/streetvendors.pdf 3 New York City Department of Consumer Affairs Business Licensing Guide. Available online at http://www.nyc.gov/html/dca/html/094.html
challenged and upheld several times, most recently in 1990 (Lee 1990) allows veterans to apply for and receive vending licenses above and beyond the cap limit. The second major exception involves the sale of printed material which is considered free speech and protected under the First Amendment. Vendors do not need a license to sell books, magazines or any other type of printed material. In addition to regulations governing the licensing of vendors, there is also a tortuously long list of regulations dictating where and when licensed vendors can do business. On some streets vending is allowed during the weekends but not during weekdays. On others vending is permitted only during certain hours on certain days. Others still have total bans on vending, regardless of the day or time. To add even more complexity, the rules differ depending on what is being sold. The cumulative effect of space and time restrictions is that licensed vendors are generally banned from the busiest streets and neighborhoods of the city during peak bs es or t r y er s g o pti frt e ad et r tit cys ui shus h e dc ai cm et n o s r n r a a snh i ’ n , eb e n io os su n e t business districts. A licensed vendor who chooses to follow the letter of the law will often find himself relegated to quiet side streets with light foot traffic. This may prevent crowding on main thoroughfares (the ostensible reason usually given for the policy) but restricting street vendors to quiet streets is like restricting gas stations to jogging trails; hardly the ideal business environment. The current New York City vending laws make it practically impossible to become a licensed street vendor, and make it very difficult for even licensed vendors to do business legally. Therefore, rather than keeping vendors off the streets, New York City vending laws, by not reflecting the actual demand for licenses and by banning
vendors from the most economically productive spaces, play a large role in encouraging informal vending to take place. Of course, strict laws would not encourage informal vending practices if resources were provided for the enforcement of these laws. Regulations alone do not lead to informalization. It is when regulations are coupled with the two other factors identified by Fernandez Kelly and Garcia, enforcement and conflicting mandates of agencies, that we see the full picture of how the state actively encourages informal activity to take place. Enforcement of certain laws is made difficult by budgetary and staff limitations (Fernandez Kelly and Garcia 1989). Not all laws are given equal amount of resources for enforcement. Fernandez Kelly and Garcia demonstrate how the lack of resources provided for enforcement of labor laws in Los Angeles encourages informal labor practices. New York State and City are also notorious for paltry resources provided for labor enforcement, for instance in 1997 the New York State Apparel Industry Task Force had five inspectors responsible for monitoring 4,000 garment factories (Kwong 1997, 177). The varying amount of resources provided for the enforcement of particular laws is an unofficial statement of priorities by governing officials. As Fernandez Kelly and G r a u iit cs o t m nf t i i ut ,t aito f l eo no a ipttnh ae fh aua u n n sy“ e b i rau tefrce c e e c r g d r h ly ir wage and hour legislation cannot be seen as a random occurrence or as the unwelcome result of scarce resources. Rather, it must be seen as an expression of relative tolerance o t pro s tr r eti so ieapate”Fradz ey Garcia n h a ftee e n t e frlglr i s (e ne K l and e t a p s av l cc n l 1989, 254).
The same holds true for street vending. In 1987, the New York City created the Street Peddler Task Force, consisting of 34 officers (Lii 1996). While this is significantly higher than the 5 labor inspectors in the garment industry, when compared to the number of street vendors doing business in the city, the number of officers is grossly insufficient. Simply taking into account the 3,854 licensed vendors we get a ratio of one officer for every 113 vendors. If we add the commonly cited number of 7,000 unlicensed vendors to the total, it produces a ratio of one officer for every 294 vendors. Hardly a statement of priority by the city. These numbers are admittedly a bit misleading, for the Street Vendor Task Force is only a supplement to the main law enforcement arm of New York City, the NYPD. If one adds the number of regular, uniformed police officers to the 34 officers of the Task Force, the ratio looks a bit more manageable. But this brings us to the third and final way the state encourages the formation of the informal economy: contradictory mandates of government agencies. The fragmentation of government means that within cities, the agendas and priorities of government agencies can often conflict and even, at times, be completely contradictory. In the case of street vending, there are no less than six city agencies with jurisdiction over vending activity.4 The Departments of Consumer Affairs and Health have primary jurisdiction, as they are the ones in charge of licensing vendors and formulating the regulations. However, the responsibility for day to day enforcement falls primarily on the Police Department.
The six agencies are: Department of Consumer Affairs, Department of Health, Department of Sanitation, Department of Transportation, the Parks Department and the Police Department (Gaber 1993).
It should come as no surprise that enforcing vending regulations, which can at times be tediously complex, is not a priority for police officers in New York. Officially arresting a vendor can be a laborious and time consuming process for police. Police must confiscate the goods, which may require calling a van to transport them to the station. The officer must then transport the vendor to the station, and show up at a court date to testify against the vendor (Gaber 1993). Rather than enforce the laws strictly, as the Department of Consumer Affairs or Department of Health may prefer them to do, police commonly negotiate regulations informally with vendors, often times without a word being spoken. These informal negotiations are manifested across the city in choreographed cat and mouse games whose rules and rhythms are implicitly understood by both vendors and police officers (Lii 1996, Sontag 1993). Two examples of these negotiations from New York Times articles are worth restating in full: “ out to play gme?h [ fcref rnw k]hue. h of epce u ‘ You a s’ eO f e JfG ao sisot T e fcr i d p i d i k
oe edr fl n t ladosd by the legs into the street. As the vendor was n vno’ o i a e n t e it s dg b s backing away, the officer grabbed handfuls of cassettes and hurled them at him...The vendors understood. Officer Granowski rarely confiscates their goods, so they are willing to tolerate some bluster. Besides it was easy enough to just move temporarily to the other side of Broadway, which belongs to a different precinct (Sontag 1994).
The second quote is from an article about unlicensed portrait artists in Times Square. The artists, like vendors are selling goods illegally in the street, the only difference being that they create their goods at the same location that they sell them.
“o t m spr t a isa, e ia i p c g e n t eh has worked well F rh ota , e rs syt r s n m li i ada t e t h tt he it v k at for both sides [police and artists]. The artists say they sometimes sacrifice themselves on certain nights to satisfy a police quota, although the police deny there is a quota system. In exchange, they say, police officers give them a break on nights when business is good, especially on weekend nights, when they would have to be taken to Central Booking and spend the weekend there, it is much preferable to spend a few hours in a precinct. Asked about these arrangements, Lieutenant Johnson would say only that the police are vigilant every day of the week (Lii 1996).
Despite strict regulations limiting the amount of vendors and restricting where vendors can do business, vendors are still a common sight in New York. With 3,583 licenses and nearly 10,000 vendors on the streets, one can safely say that current vending laws do not limit the amount of vendors on the street. What then, is the purpose of vending laws? Why not raise the cap on licenses or change the laws to fit the reality on the street? Recall that Fernandez Kelly and Garcia state that the failure of legislation is nt “ no ocr ne o “n e o eeu o sa eeor s (e adz ey o a r dm cur c” ruw l m r l fcr r uc ”Fr ne K l a e c st c s e n l and Garcia 1989, 254). There is a reason for the current vending laws, but it may not be to restrict vending. States are independent actors, ntps v r l t n o sc eoo iad o“as ee e i s foi cnm c n i f co o pli lrcs s ( i 20. o tapoes ”i d 5)Laws created by the state, while ostensibly put in place to ic e b, serve the public good, may also be in place to serve the good of the state. While the stated goal of vending legislation is to limit and regulate vendors for the safety and convenience of the public, they in fact serve another more important purposes from the standpoint of the state. I propose that the primary purpose of street vending legislation in New York is to keep the majority of street vending activity informal. Iiit cysn r to ep ot ed g nom leas iao so tsn h i ’i e stke m svni i r abcuetl w fr e t te n f l maximum flexibility in managing street vending. When anti-vendor sentiment is low, vendors operate in a environment of tacit municipal acceptance. However if political pressure from local merchants and/or business elites grows, the existing regulatory apparatus can be mobilized to crack down on vending activity. The great majority of vendors, lacking licenses, can be defined in the public discourse as lawbreakers who evade taxes and constitute unfair competition to legitimate taxpaying businesses.
T i“ oal e g”s seili pr n iN wY r, hrt sc ln h m r e r e iepc l m ot tn e okw e h oi ad s lva ay a e e a political culture place a great deal of value on t nt n fh “a w ri h o o o t hr ok g e i e d n i m gat Sr t ed g seil idele bde iN wY r’cl r m i n . t evni epc l , ep m eddn e oks u ua r ” e n ay s y t l history. A crackdown on licensed vendors would involve abolishing the right of legitimate businessmen to earn a living. In a city where many successful retail stores, and many middle and even upper class families lovingly trace their roots back to an immigrant with a pushcart, this would likely prove to be politically troublesome. On the other hand, by keeping most vendors unlicensed, during crackdowns the city is able to portray itself as doing nothing unjust, for it is simply enforcing existing laws and cracking down on lawbreakers who themselves are injuring legitimate, hardworking, merchants. The criminalization of vending is a key strategy utilized by anti-vending interests during crackdowns. Major crackdowns, however, do not happen often. History shows us that very particular political and economic conditions are necessary for successful antivending campaigns to take place. Interestingly, these conditions are not necessarily r a doh “ee t o t vni “rb m . n at hn t evni w s tt e t tt svry fh ed g pol ” I f , e set ed g a ai le e i” e n e cw r n s peak, during the early 20th Century, very little action was taken to control the situation. What drives anti-vending crackdowns is not an overabundance of vendors, but the fusion o prcl eoo iad o tai e s i o at ed g oli s. f a i a cnm c n pli ln r t n “n -vni cat n” These tu r ic t e s t i n io coalitions are usually made up of two key players: real estate/redevelopment interests, and reform-oriented mayoral administrations. Small businesses are a third, but less influential part of anti-vending coalitions.
In order to gain a better understanding of how anti-vending coalitions form and operate, two cases of successful crackdowns on street vending will be presented. The first is Foeo a uri si t move Lower East Side pushcarts vendors off the i l L G a a f hto rl d’ g streets and into public market buildings. The second case, quite similar in many respects to the first despite the fact it occurred 60 years later, is R dl Gu ai c cdw o uo h i i ’ r ko n n p ln s a t 15 Sr t sA r a m re l e ui t 19’ Both cases provide insight h 2t t eWet fcn a t a dr gh 90s. e h e i kpc n e into the political and economic conditions that give rise to anti-vending campaigns, as well as demonstrate how anti-vending coalitions utilize the condition of informality to legitimize their campaign.
“ h P scrE i : LaGuardia and the Fight For the Lower East Side T e uhat v” l
The pushcart markets of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries can trace their origins to an arcane 1761 law enacted to protect farmers from competition in public farmers markets. The 18th Century law contained an important loophole that encouraged the emergence of the pushcart in New York. Known a t “ h t Mi tRule”h l sh T iy n e e r u t a e w specifically outlawed retailing in the street from fixed locations for more than half an hour, but as long as vendors kept moving, they were not technically breaking the law (Bluestone 1991). From this loophole, the (in)famous pushcart was born. During the first three quarters of the 19th Century pushcarts were a common sight on the streets of neighborhoods such as the Five Points, as many Irish, African American, and German newcomers took up street vending. It was not until the second half of the 19th Century though, when immigration increased dramatically, that the practice of street vending in New York exploded and made its first significant claim to space in the city.
In 1866 four pushcart peddlers decided to ignore the law stating that they had to remain mobile, and established a fixed pushcart market on Hester Street (Bluestone 1991). The Hester Street market grew quickly as it became apparent that police were not concerned with enforcing laws banning stationary vending. Following the fud g o “ ni ” f o n the Hester Street market, informal markets spread across Manhattan, as pushcart peddlers colonized sidewalk space on many of the principle commercial streets in immigrant ni brod. yh 13’t rw rpscrm re o 6 sets throughout the e hohos B t 90sh e e uha a t n 0 t e g e e e t ks r city (New York Times, 3/1/1935). Between 1880 and roughly 1935, the pushcart situation was for all intents and purposes, accepted by the city. City politicians had little interest in shaking up an economic arrangement that worked extremely well in immigrant neighborhoods. The pushcart markets provided jobs to new immigrants and the vendors in turn provided food and goods at reasonable prices for immigrant families (Bernstein 1936). Despite the lack of direct action, whether it was a concerted plan or not the city put in place a number of regulations between 1910 and 1930 that laid the legal groundwork for an eventual crackdown. First in 1915, the city abolished the 30 minute rule and placed informally created pushcart markets under the jurisdiction of the Department of Markets, in effect formalizing the pushcart markets. But while the city was formalizing the markets with one hand, it was simultaneously pushing the vendors themselves into informality with the other (Bluestone 1991). In 1916, the city instituted a law stating all vending licenses would expire on April 30th of that year, and vendors would have to renew their licenses every year from that point on (Gaber 1993). The implicit purpose of this law was to reduce the number of
vendors. The hope was that vendors would either forget or not know how to renew their licenses (Gaber 1993). Ten years later, citing serious traffic congestion and unsanitary conditions, the city moved to place a moratorium on all new vending licenses in 1928, limiting the number of licenses to 7,000. This was the most aggressive move by the city to date, at least in a rhetorical sense, but the strong language had little effect on day to day operations in the pushcart markets. By 1935 for instance, while the number of licensed vendors held steady at 7,000, there were another 6,000-7,000 unlicensed vendors o t cyst e (Mackenzie 1936). The law, according to its explicit objectives n h i ’set e t r s (limiting the amount of vendors to 7,000 and easing congestion in the markets) was a complete failure. Where the law did succeed was in turning the pushcart trade into a largely informal enterprise. By 1928 the laws were in place for a crackdown on the pushcart markets, but the markets would remain untouched for another 6 years. It was not until Fiorello LaGuardia came to office in 1934 that the anti-pushcart movement began to gain steam. LaGuardia ran for mayor as an anti-Tammany reform candidate. But LaGuardia, quite atypical in many respects, was not a typical reformer. He w s oa e br f e Y r’ a nt m m e o N w oks Protestant, Anglo/Dutch-American aristocracy, but rather, as the son of an Italian father and Jewish mother he was himself a physical embodiment of immigrant New York. The “ ilFo e was a populist reformer with a genuine (if at times misguided) desire to Lte l r t w ” improve conditions in immigrant neighborhoods.5 He was also a man of his age, infatuated with progress and the ameliorative possibilities of science and engineering
S m seu tL G a i se etuho l n p m i ate hohost m d rmde o e pcle a ur a f vnps t c a u i m g nni brod s m e f a d’ r e r g e o ep seeded shame for his own immigrant roots. In an often retold story, LaGuardia was mockingly called an “ra gi e b p y a sn iyu ,n t is r i c d tiI ln e t eO e f ogn r dr y l m t ih ot a e n l d et ah ti hra . n o n ” a e s h hc u r e s aa ig L G a i sitn ii s s ao w so a ogn r drf mt set(a 17) a ur a fsi tt e a m yr a tbn ra gi e r h t e C r 94. d ’ r iav n so er s o
(Caro 1974). It should come as no surprise then, that his two passions converged on the project of modernizing the Lower East Side, and the pushcart vendors found themselves d et iL G a i se r -oriented crosshairs. i cyn a ur a r om r l d’ f LG a is a ur a mission dovetailed nicely with real estate and redevelopment d’ interests. The real estate market in the Lower East Side was moribund, as the increasingly dilapidated neighborhood was steadily loosing population. According to the New York Times, the population in the Lower East Side dropped from 500,000 in 1910, to 250,000 in 1935. By 1937 the population was an estimated 225,000 and 1/8 of the property in the neighborhood produced no income (New York Times 4/25/1937). The m yr r ee p etgna olbi Fdr lfne hui adnr t c r ao’ e vl m n aed w u r g ee l udd os g n i a r t e s d o d n ay n f su u improvements to the neighborhood, greatly increasing property value. It was the nature of these improvements that spelled the end of the pushcart. The 13’w sh dw o t at oi aeadh c w e L w r at 90s a t a n fh u m b e g,n t r dd o eE sSide was e e o l e o simply not compatible. Parks Commissioner Robert Moses and Mayor LaGuardia undertook the massive project of retrofitting the neighborhood. Entire blocks of tenements were demolished to make way for parks and housing superblocks, streets were widened, and highways were rammed through waterfront districts. Changing along with the physical nature of the neighborhood was the vision of the proper function of the street (Bluestone 1991). According to William Fellows Morgan, commissioner of the D pr etf re ,T e t e a made for traffic and the sidewalks for ea m n o Ma t “ h set re t ks r s pdsi s ( e Y r Tm s5 / 3) T e uha m re w rs p nt eeta ”N w ok i e,/ 1 8. h pscr a t e i l o a rn 99 t ks e m y compatible use, and were an impediment to progress.
“ o n cn eyhtuha m ren iotft wt m dr cnio N oe a dn t pscr a t g s uo s p i oe od i a t ki e h n t ns and that its continuance would prove the greatest deterrent to housing betterment in the congested residential districts of our city. Pushcarts are incompatible with clean streets and clean homes....the rehabilitation of the East Side as the site for model residential structures precludes the possibility o t icn nac” fh rot une e i I. Goldman, Greater New York Taxpayers Association (New York Times 2/7/1937).
Rather than ban pushcart merchants altogether, the city created “ oe ” a e m dr m r t n k buildings into which licensed pushcarts vendors would be relocated. The Essex Street Market was completed in 1940 with space for 530 pushcarts (New York Times, 12/22/38). Unfortunately, there were roughly 1,300 vendors on the streets of the Lower East Side, half of them unlicensed.6 The market obviously did not have the capacity to house all vendors, but it nonetheless served an important political purpose. When it was finished, it allowed the city to further draw a distinction between legitimate and illegitimate vendors. Once the 530 law abiding vendors were housed in the market building, the city had the moral leverage and the political will to aggressively crack down on the remaining 750 or so illegal vendors. The public discourse on the street vending issue was framed masterfully by the anti-vni cat nnh 13’ T e combined a hard driving ed g oli it 90s hy n io e . narrative of progress and modernization with a clear delineation of legitimate and illegitimate vendors in order to gain public support for an aggressive crackdown on street vending. The political will to follow through on the crackdown was the result of the convergence of important interests groups at the right time to form a powerful antivending coalition. Mayor LaGuardia was a populist reformer, and needed a project to demonstrate his commitment to improving and modernizing immigrant neighborhoods.
This is my own estimate. According to the New York Times there were 670 licensed vendors on the L w r at i ( Y 1/ / ) Iignr lar d pnhtnh 13’t rw ra m n o eE sSd N T 2 2 8. ts ee l ge uo t i t 90sh e e s ay e 23 ay e a e e e unlicensed vendors as licensed vendors on the street, hence the estimate of 1,300 total vendors.
T e m drin l b”swt c w e ad ip a L w r at i a t pr c h “ oe z go y,a h r dd n d ai t o eE sSd sh e et ni b e o l de e e f template to demonstrate the transformative power of highways and modern housing. Finally, real estate interests in the neighborhood welcomed these ideas as salvation from years of declining property value. One thing these three groups could readily agree on was the need to rid the neighborhood of anti-modern and unsightly pushcart markets. With the coalescing of like minded power brokers, a social and economic arrangement that had for nearly 50 years been politically untouchable became just another causality of the new Lower East Side.
Giuliani’Q a to LfC uae s u ly f i rsd meets the 125th Street African Market i e
Ever since the peg-legged Peter Stuyvesant arrived in New Amsterdam in 1647 to r t e reta o n w oe izn hdih w rs“rw vr wl ados i e o odro cl y hs ci s a, i od,go n e i n l en sr o te n s y d o t im r s (urw ad lc 19)N wY r Ct s ioy a be flo h r oa ”B r s n Waae 99, e ok i ’h t hs en u f e l o l y sr l zealous reformers promising to clean up the unruly city and set things straight. Republican Rudolph Giuliani ran for mayor in 1993 on that very promise. The city, dsi t eoo ibo o t 18’w s e e e by residents and outsiders alike ep eh cnm c om fh 90s a pr i d t e e cv a a agru,i re ycr p ad not lb p c. i i i p n a t f s dne sd odr ,or tn ucn o al l e Gu a ’ l w so i o s l u rl e a ln s a x New York from the bottom up. O c iof em yr i i i “uly fi ” a pi t gt m nr nen fc, ao Gu a ’ qato le cm a n a e d i i ln s i f g r e o infractions in an effort to restore a sense of order to the city. The reasoning was that petty crime was in fact not petty at all, but rather, it created an environment of disorder that fs r m rsr u c m nlcv y T ea e o Gu ai qato le ot e oe e os r i at i . h t gt f i i ’ uly fi ed i i a it r s ln s i f crackdowns incl e a og t r t nteu pr pnad r “qege e” n u d m n o e , rslj e ,ahnl s suee m n ad d h su i m s e, of course, unlicensed street vendors.
C i i n wtGu ai acnac w s go i i e s b croa o c i i i i ’ sedny a a rwn n r t y opr e n d g h ln s g te s t retailers and large real estate developers ir ee p g a e ’15 Street. In 1992, n e vl i H r m s 2th d on l t fscroa “i er t t t ni brods cnm c a ra btB n n h itopr e p ne ”e e h e hoho’eoo iw t s s o e ad er t o s sd e g e h Jr ’ad h B d S o oee s r a15 Sr tn 5 A eu ( end e ys n T e oy hp pnd t e t2t t ead t vneK ney r os h e h 1992). These two franchises proved successful and soon other corporations were expressing interest in opening stores on the street. Though it sputtered at first, by 1994, the redevelopment momentum in Harlem was growing rapidly. In 1994, real estate and business interests organized under the new 125th Street Business Improvement District. From this new sounding board they pressured the Giuliani administration with a unified voice to deal with what they felt was a major impediment to the redevelopment of the area: the large, crowded, and unregulated concentration of West African street vendors doing business on the sidewalks of 125th Street. By 1994 the “ fcn re a iw s nw ,a eie o 15 Sr to A r a Ma t st a ko nhd x t n 2t t efr i k” sd h e roughly five years (Stoller 2002). On warm weekends, nearly 1,000 unlicensed street vendors sold merchandise from card tables, car trunks and blankets laid on the street (Kennedy 1994). The seemingly chaotic agglomeration of street vendors was actually quite well organized, albeit in an informal manner. According to anthropologist Paul Stoller who spent years studying the market:
There were no formally assigned market stalls and no one paid a fee for market space. One space was usually occupied early in the morning and kept until sunset. Vendors rarely contested this informal rule. Over times Africans from specific countries (Niger, Mali, the Gambia, Senegal) had appropriated specific areas of the sidewalk on 125th Street and on Lenox [Avenue]. As in West African markets certain groups sold specific items. When new vendors came to the market, t icm a i s ol“ ae pc”o t m h ro pto w u m k sae frh e rt d e all informally (Stoller 2002, 135).
Though it was well organized, the 125th Street market was illegal for a number of reasons. First, all street vending, whether licensed or unlicensed, was outlawed on 125th
Street, and second, the vast majority of vendors on the street were unlicensed vendors, many of them selling counterfeit items. The market was seen by small store owners on 125th Street as detrimental to business, and as early as 1990, small business owners had mobilized to request a crackdown on the market (New York Times, 9/24/90). Then city councilwoman and current Manhattan Borough President Virginia Fields acting on behalf of small business owners in Harlem formally requested that the Department of Consumer Affairs enforce vending laws on 125th Street (ibid). Nothing happened. Three years later, still under pressure from small businesses to do something about the vending situation, the Dinkins Administration finally decided to take action. But mayor David Dinkins, admitting publicly that in his youth he too was an unlicensed vender on the streets of Harlem (Sontag 1993), had little political will or moral leverage (the loss of moral leverage being strategically self inflicted by the unprompted admission of his own vending history) to seriously crack down on the vendors. A half hearted attempt to sweep 125th Street of vendors in 1993 met with a sizable protest by vendors that virtually shut down the street (New York Times 11/14/93). The mayor decided to cut his political losses and backed off. The issue faded away, and street vending on 125th Street returned to normal. The Dinkins Administration’ s cnei taue l w dh m yro tlnh i u udrh asi s fgi ovn n f l ao e t ao t s l t s e net up e o “o g e ir l e ao e s e c n back toh da i ba ” A C m i i eo B s es e i s lc F r ptt t r n or . s o m s o r f ui sSr c Waae od u i e w g d sn n ve l a e t f l c cdw ,15 Sr ts m j ad an n t k hnto e t f rh ae r ko n“2t t eia a rn dut g a w e icm so t e id a h e o i s moving the street vendors. We want to handle it in a fashion where we have a highly
likelpopcfrucs ( y rseto sces ibid). Translation: this is not our issue. We are giving it lip ” service, but we are not acting on it again any time soon. And so the market persisted. It was not until Rudolph Giuliani came to power, and larger real estate interests began to organize and target Harlem for redevelopment, that the conditions for the formation of an anti-vending coalition emerged. In 1994, the complaints of small business owners about the vending market which had previously fallen on deaf ears were joined by larger real estate and corporate interests who saw 125th Street as a potential redevelopment area. With rise of the Giuliani Administration, those who had been preaching the need for a crackdown on the 125th Street vendors had found their choir. The street vending issue in Harlem was a perfect opportunity for Giuliani to flex his reform oriented muscles. Most if not all of the vendors on 125th Street were unlicensed. The administration was therefore able to frame vendors as leeches on a struggling Harlem economy. Vendors were nothing more than selfish tax evaders who by bek gh l , e udr tn “ g i a ”apy g ui s T e i i i r i t a w r ne u i l im t t ai bs es h Gu a an e w e c tg e t e x n n . ln administration used the act of taxpaying as the definitive demarcation line between legitimate and illegitimate commercial enterprise. In the words of Rudy Washington, the Commissioner of Business Services, “ hv tpo ct r h o t m r att We aeo rt th i t fh e hn o e egs e c s do business without any obstructions. We have a responsibility to the people who pay taxes in this town and to those who go through the trouble of following the law and oe t g eim tbs ess ( i s 94. pr i l t a ui s ”Hc 19) an g i e n e k After a number of delays, on October 18th, 1994 the Giuliani administration finally moved to sweep 125th Street clean of vendors. Giuliani was determined to succe w e Dni hd ae. i Dni ’ r ko n a primarily a symbolic ed hr i n a f l Wh e i n c cdw w s e ks id l ks a
gesture, Giuliani was not interested in mere symbolism, or it could be said, was intent on using a very different kind of symbolism. On the day of the crackdown 125th Street was inundated with hundreds of uniformed officers on foot and horseback. Metal barricades were placed all around the wide sidewalks of 125th Street to keep vendors away. The heart of Harlem was turned into a militarized anti-vending police zone. The crackdown on vendors succeeded. By virtue of most of the vending being informal, Giuliani needed only to mobilize the existing regulatory apparatus to crack dw o 15 Sr t vnos D si t sces lot yl vendors as o n n 2t t e s edr ep eh ucs upraaof h e’ . t e f r lawbreakers without legitimate claims to business space on 125th Street, Giuliani did sanction the creation of an alternative enclosed marketplace on 116th Street and Lenox Avenue. The market, run by the Masjid Malcolm Shabazz mosque offered vendors, both licensed and unlicensed, market space for $6 a day (Bloom 1995). The Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market, like the Essex Street Market was not a genuine solution for displaced vendors, but rather a political tactic to deflect criticism from those who might accuse the mayor of being too harsh on the vendors. The 116th Street marketplace had space for only 400 of the estimated 1,000 vendors on 125th Street (Myers 1994). It was also off the beaten path, in an area with much less foot traffic than the busy 125th Street. Most vendors initially rejected the market, choosing rather to try their luck selling informally in other parts of the city. A year after it was created it was not even operating at half capacity, with an average of 175 vendors doing business on any given day (Bloom 1995). The market, while still open, continues to struggle to attract vendors (Stoller 2002).
There are a two important points to draw from a reading of the two cases presented in this paper. First, in both cases, street vending proliferated long before the aggressive crackdown took place. Crackdowns were not the response to a sudden degeneration of the vending situation. Rather they came about only when political and economic conditions gave rise to powerful anti-vending coalitions. It was when interest groups found common ground around the need to rid the streets of vendors, not necessarily when the number of street vendors were at their peak, that action against vendors occurred. Therefore, it can be said that the catalyst behind the activation of the regulatory apparatus has more to do with economic and political conditions than conditions in the streets. Second, in both cases the condition of informality was used strategically by antivending coalitions during the crackdowns. As we have seen, vending laws have an important effect on street vending, even if they do not achieve their stated purpose. The situations before the crackdowns, when there were 7,000 unlicensed vendors in the 1930s, and 6,000 unlicensed vendors in the 1990s were not failures of the vending laws. Quite the contrary, while the laws did not achieve their stated objectives of limiting the amount of vendors on the street to 7,000 and 3,853 respectively, they did succeed in creating an environment where at least half of the vendors were operating illegally. When political and economic conditions were right for a crackdown, anti-vending coalitions needed only to enforce existing laws to dramatically reduce the number of vendors. The ability to crack down on vendors without instituting retroactive policy is an
important tactic in a city with such a deep cultural connection to the striving immigrant entrepreneur. In closing, the examples of both the 1930s pushcart wars, and the battle against H r m s fcn a ei t 19s rv e t p tfr a e ’A r a m r tnh 90 poi ae leo what future vending l i k e d m a crackdowns may look like. For those concerned with maintaining and increasing the rights of both licensed and unlicensed street vendors, understanding the underlying political and economic conditions that drive vending crackdowns is critical. It is only with a deep understanding of historic cases that one may be able to anticipate future crackdowns.
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