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A Thesis Presented to The Faculty of Architecture and Planning


In Partial Fulfillment
Of the Requirements for the Degree
Master of Science in Urban Planning


Joshua Benson

May 4, 2006
Table of Contents

1. Introduction.................................................................................................................1
2. NYC Vending Law......................................................................................................4
3. Literature Review......................................................................................................10
4. Methodology .............................................................................................................23
5. Historical Review: Union Square Greenmarket..........................................................31
6. Case Study 1: West Broadway...................................................................................37
7. Case Study 2: Flatbush Avenue .................................................................................47
8. Conditions That Foster Synergy.................................................................................52
9. Recommendations for Further Study..........................................................................55
10. Conclusion ..............................................................................................................56
11. Policy Implications..................................................................................................59
12. Works Cited ............................................................................................................64
13. Appendix 1: Summary of Current Street Vending Regulations.................................68

Table of Figures

Figure 1: Location Map: Case Studies ...........................................................................25

Figure 2: Site Map: Union Square Greenmarket ............................................................26
Figure 3: Site Map: West Broadway ..............................................................................28
Figure 4: Site Map: Flatbush Avenue.............................................................................29
Figures 5 & 6: West Broadway Shopping Environment .................................................45
Figure 7: Flatbush Avenue Doorway Vendor....................................................................48

1. Introduction

Street vending, sometimes called peddling or pushcart vending, was first regulated In

New York in 1691 and banned outright in 1707 (Bluestone 1991, 69). Since then, city

regulations have been modified to allow limited vending. However, vendors in New York

have been and continue to be highly regulated. Current regulations limit potential

vending sites to those that conform to a strict set of clearance standards. Many streets are

off-limits to vending entirely. In addition, an absolute cap on the number of licenses has

been in place since 1979. Some vendors allege that enforcement of the regulations is

uneven and incorrect, bordering on harassment. The waiting list for new street vending

licenses is so long that the city has refused to accept any new applications since 1992

(Street Vendor Project).

Despite the challenges to vending legally, about 5,000 licensed vendors operate legally in

New York, joined by an estimated 5,000 additional unlicensed vendors selling everything

from food to batteries to books to clothing (Basinski). Vendors, offering both

convenience and affordable goods, have remained an iconic part of New York City street

life. But vending is often opposed on three basic grounds; 1) unfair competition with

storefront-based establishments, 2) sidewalk congestion, 3) appropriateness. Former

Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia summarized the appropriateness argument, stating that street

vending is “a bad practice, unworthy of the reputation of this great City” (qtd. in

Bluestone 1991, 88). Some see street vending as an import from the developing world, a

phenomenon that New York should keep in its past (Gendar 2003, 7). Equating vending

with “third world” countries has been an effective symbolic technique for generating

political support for the regulations against vending (Levine 1990, B1; Sontag 1993, A1;

Fischer 2003, 55-56). However, Saskia Sassen has argued that the dynamics of advanced

global cities necessitate such informal commerce (Sassen 1994, 2303). Thus street

vending is not only appropriate, but also essential for New York.

Sassen contends that the disparity of incomes is so great in global cities that the poorest

citizens cannot afford to conduct business through formally regulated channels. Vendors

provide a variety of goods from the essential to the trivial, usually at optimal prices

reflecting vendors' low overhead costs. Moreover, street vending is an entrepreneurship

opportunity with low barriers to entry and represents employment and income for the

10,000 vendors estimated to sell goods on New York’s streets.

Despite the economic rationale behind it, a distinct stigma is attached to street vending,

stemming partly from the visibility on the streets and in the media of illegal vending of

stolen and bootlegged merchandise. Vendors who deal in legal merchandise are unfairly

lumped in with criminals. The current regulatory and enforcement system fails to

adequately distinguish between these two types of vendors and crackdowns on vending

tend to cast a wide net suffocating all vendors.

Part of this confusion arises because New York’s vendors operate in a gray area between

the formal and informal economy, with many completely legal, licensed and selling licit

goods, some completely illegal, unlicensed and selling illicit goods and still others

somewhere between these two extremes. Many vendors, unable to obtain a city license,

sell otherwise legal goods, but are labeled as lawbreakers. Fully legal vendors are

stigmatized when street vendors are portrayed as bootleggers and criminals in the media

(Levine 1990, B1; Sontag 1993).

This paper will examine the first contention against street vendors, that vendors represent

unfair competition with indoor businesses. I will take Sassen’s argument that vending is

appropriate for global cities as a given. Simple guidelines for vendor location can ensure

that vendors will not encroach upon the free movement of pedestrians on New York’s

sidewalks and therefore the congestion argument will not be addressed in this paper.

Do vendors compete unfairly with New York’s indoor businesses? Conventional wisdom

is that they do indeed, since vendors do not pay rent and have low overhead. However,

this simplistic claim ignores the difficulties street vendors face and has never been

proven. Moreover, I contend that vendors and storeowners may in fact enjoy synergistic

rather than antagonistic relationships.

Three sites in New York City were examined to understand the relationship between

street vending and indoor businesses. One case is presented as a historical analysis. Two

additional sites with different types of street vending are explored to examine different

interactions between street vendors and storefront businesses. Produce vendors blazed a

trail for high-end retail in Union Square and now enjoy formal financial support from

some of their neighboring retailers. Vendors on West Broadway create an intensified

shopping street, encouraging window shopping. On a strip of Flatbush Avenue that once

bustled with vendors, a recent ban on vending has led to a creative response from

storeowners, landlords and vendors.

The historical review and two case studies will show that vendors are not inherently

competitors of indoor business with an unfair advantage. In fact, vendors and stores help

each other in clear and concrete ways. New York’s vendor policies, which are designed

to frustrate, if not eliminate, street vending should be reconsidered in light of the synergy

between open-air vending and indoor stores.

2. NYC Vending Law


Both street vending and the regulation thereof have long histories in New York City. In

fact, regulations on street vending appeared more than 300 years ago. Street vending

regulations first appeared in New York in 1691, followed by a complete ban in 1707

(Bluestone 1991, 69). Since then the level of regulation and enforcement restricting

vending has ebbed and flowed considerably. During the 20th Century, three notable

periods of heightened enforcement and creation of vending legislation have had lasting

effects on vending in the city.

In the 1930s, a campaign to outlaw street vending was initiated by indoor merchants, then

taken up by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia upon his election in 1934. LaGuardia mounted an

especially aggressive campaign against street vending, in the process creating several

indoor vendors markets, some of which still are in use today. The markets were touted as

a pro-vendor initiative to help vendors move from the street to "legitimate" indoor spaces.

In reality, the indoor markets provided a small fraction of the city’s vendors with a safe

haven against the crackdowns on vending because there were far more vendors on the

street than stalls in the markets. Moreover, the strict rules of the markets blatantly

undermined the vendors' business and cultural practices. For instance, to remain in the

market, vendors had to be open for business on Saturdays and closed on Sundays. For the

many Jewish vendors, this rule effectively put them out of business or at least out of the

market (Wasserman 1998, 334). Despite the pro-vendor claims of LaGuardia's

crackdown, the increase in regulation and enforcement was brought on by a change in the

way streets were used for commerce. Trucking and goods movement depended on streets

clear of traffic and obstructions. The vendors' pushcarts were a hindrance to modern

forms of commerce and seen as an anachronism that undermined the overall efficiency

the city (Bluestone 1991, 69).

The late 1970s saw a renewed and outright forceful attempt to regulate vendors under

Mayor Ed Koch and his Commissioner of Consumer Affairs, Bruce Ratner. In 1979,

Koch and Ratner introduced a series of restrictions on street vending, which included

banning vending on many midtown streets and a cap on the number of general vending

licenses. The regulations were coupled with unusually aggressive enforcement of vending

regulations resulting in over 100,000 summonses issued to vendors each year and the

confiscation of goods from vendors operating illegally (Ranzal 1978, B18; The City

1979, 23; Confiscation Proposed To Curb Street Vendors 1979, B2). Reminiscent of the

1930s crackdown, Koch also tried to establish alternative sites for vending under the

premise that vendors needed help to become more legitimate with the eventual goal of

conducting business in a storefront. Koch broke ground on a "mart" for "peddlers" on

125th Street in 1979, shortly after the new vending restrictions went into place. The mart

was projected to house 113 vendors, who would each have to pay a weekly rent on the

space. At the groundbreaking Koch noted that his grandfather had been a "peddler" in

Poland and pronounced, "I like peddlers … It's a noble profession" (Fowler 1979, 27).

Meanwhile, the mart was years away from opening, and thousands of vendors already

faced the heightened restrictions against vending in the city. The cap on general (non-

food) vending licenses put into place by Koch and Ratner in 1979 stands to this day. In

1992, citing the length of the waiting list for general vendor licenses, the Department of

Consumer Affairs stopped accepting applications altogether. Food vending licenses are

not capped, but a limit on the number of food vending carts, which are required to vend

food, was also put into place at this time (Street Vendor Project).

In the mid- to late-1990s, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani waged another crackdown against

vendors, first by stepping up enforcement of the existing regulations, then adding to the

list of streets where vending is banned (Hernandez 1997, B1; Sami 1997, CY6). In 1998,

Giuliani banned food vendors from 144 blocks in Midtown and Lower Manhattan (Allen

1998, 27).

Current Laws

Vendors face an extensive and confusing set of regulations governing street vending and

an absolute cap in the number of vending licenses. The regulations are worth

summarizing here to establish a baseline of what is required of a legal vendor in New

York City. Firstly, vendors are broken into three sub-groups: general vendors; food

vendors; and first amendment vendors, determined by the type of goods sold. Vendors

must obtain the appropriate type of license for the goods that they plan to sell, in most

cases a virtual impossibility due to the licensing caps of the Koch era. For a general

vending license or a food cart license, a new vendor can only receive a license when

another vendor gives one up. To vend legally, vendors may not sell on a three-tiered set

of banned streets corresponding to their classification. Assuming a vendor is properly

licensed and avoids banned streets, he or she must adhere to a confusing set of sidewalk


For the purpose of regulation, street vendors are categorized into one of three categories -

food vendor, general vendor or first amendment vendor - based on the type of goods that

they sell.

• Food Vendors – "'Food vendor' or 'vendor'. A person who hawks, peddles, sells or
offers food for sale at retail in any public space." (NYC Administrative Code -
Title 17, Chapter 3, Sub Chapter 2, § 17-306 (c))
• General Vendors – "'General vendor.' A person who hawks, peddles, sells, leases
or offers to sell or lease, at retail, goods or services, including newspapers,
periodicals, books, pamphlets or other similar written matter in a public space.
This definition shall not include a food vendor as defined in subdivision c of
section 17-306 of chapter three of title seventeen of this code, or a person required
to be licensed under section 20-229 of subchapter seven of chapter two of this title
of this code. This definition also shall not include persons who use stands or
booths in a public space for the shining of shoes." (NYC Administrative Code –
Title 20, Subchapter 27, § 20-452 (b))
• First Amendment Vendors – First Amendment vendors are not explicitly defined
in the administrative codes, but are generally those vendors whose goods are
works of expression protected by the First Amendment of the constitution. The
courts have found that books, original works of art, and t-shirts bearing political
messages all qualify as protected goods. However, since these items are not
codified, there is room for judicial interpretation and the list of protected goods is
subject to expansion or contraction (Street Vendor Project).

For general vendors, the department of Consumer Affairs distributes a 67-page booklet

containing rules applicable to street vending from the New York City Administrative

Code and the Rules of the City of New York. Approximately 20 pages of the booklet are

devoted to a list of hundreds of streets upon which vending is banned. Different

regulations apply to Food and First Amendment Vendors.

For each type of vendor a different set of banned streets apply. In addition, a complex set

of sidewalk clearance and table/display dimensions apply to general and first amendment

vendors, while cart dimension and health maintenance standards apply to food vendors.

General and food vendors must obtain a license from the city, but first amendment

vendors can sell without any license, provided they avoid their banned streets and adhere

to the sidewalk clearance and display standards for general vendors. See Appendix 1 for a

more detailed account of these regulations.

The restrictions upon vendors, licensing and enforcement are handled by multiple

agencies: Department of Consumer Affairs, Department of Health, Department of

Transportation and the Police Department. There is no vendor licensing clearinghouse,

nor is any agency in a position to comprehensively address the issues raised by the

regulation of vending. The vending regulations are sufficiently numerous and ambiguous

that an enforcement officer can “find a violation” when a complaint is lodged against a

vendor. The vending rules do not foster certainly because their ambiguity is so great that

vendors, complainants and enforcement officers do not fully understand them.


LaGuardia: In 1937 Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia declared that street commerce was “a bad

practice, unworthy of the reputation of this great City” (qtd. in Bluestone 1991, 88).

Daniel Bluestone contends that despite the outward claims, the government regulatory

efforts of the 1930s all favored “higher realty values, higher urban densities, and the

unrestricted circulation of people and store-bought commodities” (Bluestone 1991, 91).

Where reformers claimed vendors impeded traffic, Bluestone notes that the obsession

with reducing traffic congestion stemmed largely from the fact that "increased circulation

helped generate higher densities and land values" (Bluestone 1991, 76).

Koch/Ratner: In 1978 Koch said that new vending restrictions were necessary because

the proliferation of vendors was "causing concern among community groups and the

business community" (qtd. in Ranzal 1978, B18). "Street peddlers have spread out over

the city at an alarming rate, at times making it dangerous for shoppers to cross the street,"

explained Koch said in 1979 as the new restrictions against vending were being rolled out

(qtd. in The City 1979, 23). Koch makes the case that vendors were hindering business

and shopping by their very presence and that outright bans on many streets and

confiscation of the vendors' wares were the only viable remedies to the alleged


Giuliani: Giuliani's crackdown against vendors was part of an ongoing "quality of life"

campaign where the Mayor targeted activity that he perceived as annoying with the same

aggression that had been previously used to combat violent crime. Vendors fought the

new restrictions in court, but eventually lost in the New York State Court of Appeals.

Daniel A. Biederman, who was the president of two contiguous midtown special

assessment districts, said that, "many of the merchants and property owners will be very

pleased" by the new bans. Midtown retailers and restaurant owners had "lobbied the city

for years to restrict all street vendors" (Hernandez 1997, B1). In 1998, Giuliani said the

new rules were "part of living in a civilized society" and claimed that the vendors were

"chaotic" (qtd. in Allen 1998, 27). However, the Mayor acknowledged that the

crackdown was also a result of pressure from "business owners [landlords] eager to ease

the sidewalk congestion around their office towers" (Allen 1998, 27).

3. Literature Review

To inform the case studies I conducted a review of the relevant literature with regard to

the history of street vending in New York City, the informal economy in general and in

New York City specifically, and retail development history.

Vending History

The history of street vending in New York City is of particular relevance to this study

because the current state of vending, regulation and enforcement is a product of this

history. Understanding historical precedents and trends is crucial to analyzing the present

state of vending. While accounts from the popular media provide an overview of key

events, a historical analysis by Daniel Bluestone proffers a more thoughtful and insightful

chronicle of vending in New York City. Of particular note is Bluestone's analysis of the

changes in attitudes and regulations concerning vending in the early 20th century.

Vendors had been heavily restricted until the 1920s, when the city relaxed vending

restrictions in an attempt to address the "food shortages, distribution problems" caused by

World War I and "to buttress the least expensive means of selling food" (Bluestone 1991,

72). The city sanctioned several outdoor vendors markets until new regulations in the

1930s restricted vending heavily. The city constructed indoor marketplaces with strict

rules and hours of operation. Bluestone observes that the vending regulations of the

1930s were part of a larger campaign to specialize urban space. This campaign included

the separation of land uses through zoning. The view of the highly specialized modern

city "favored a modern ideal of the street as the exclusive province of smoothly

circulating 'traffic'" (Bluestone 1991, 69). The notion of specialized urban spaces remains

a powerful influence on vending regulation today. Vending is often singled out for

causing congestion of the sidewalk, which many view as the exclusive domain of

pedestrian movement. Moreover, the attempts of the 1930s to contain vending in

marketplaces have been replicated several times throughout the 20th century.

In the early 1990s, John Gaber conducted an in-depth ethnographic study of the 14th

Street informal vendors' market in Manhattan. This study revealed the way in which

vendors on this street operated, evaded enforcement and established claims on their

spaces. Gaber's research identified not only traditional vendors with pushcarts and tables,

who tended to use the curb side of the sidewalk, but also "stoopline" vendors, who rented

sidewalk space and vestibules from storeowners. Despite a more formal arrangement that

sheltered them from fines, the stoopline vendors were operating in violation of city

regulations (Gaber 1993).

Gaber went on to show that despite their informal status, "vendors do not operate outside

of the city's formal economy" (Gaber 1994, 400). Gaber explained that vendors have a

"forward linkage" to the formal economy by serving as a retailer of cheap goods to poor

people (Gaber 1994, 396). Vendors also have a "backward linkage" to the formal

economy that Gaber discovered by tracing the vendors' supply chain. He found that

vendors obtain their wares from legitimate wholesalers. Their goods often are "either

produced by small scale manufacturers or by multi-national corporations" (Gaber 1994,

398). Vendors serve as flexible retail outlets for these producers. Gaber asserts that

"multi-national corporations have realized that they can cut their losses and free-up some

warehouse space by selling their unwanted [defective or out-of-date] products at

drastically reduced prices to New York City wholesalers. These wholesalers in turn sell

these slightly defective products to small retailers and street vendors" (Gaber 1994, 398).

Gaber also illustrated that vendors and storeowners create a market synergism. Vendors

help retailers on 14th Street by "complementing the existing array of goods" and creating

"a unique shopping environment that attracts additional shoppers" (Gaber 1994, 399).

Competition between stores and vendors is rare, Gaber noted, because the two deal in

goods that are of different sizes, costs and types. Moreover, Gaber documented the

transformative effect vending has on the shopping environment, by slowing the pace of

movement and providing access to a larger array of goods. "Changing the use of the

sidewalk away from a transportation pathway allows shoppers to spend more time on

Fourteenth Street, which translates into more business for local merchants" (Gaber 1994,


Informal Economy

Because street vending often takes place as an informal economic activity, it is important

to understand what exactly the informal economy is and how informality is relevant to

the regulations regarding street vending. There is a good deal of literature on the informal

economy, particularly dealing with unregulated economic activity in developing

countries. However, several scholars have made important contributions to the literature

regarding informal activity in advanced economies, underscoring that informality is a real

component of the economy in the developed world.

Manuel Castells and Alejandro Portes explore the informal economy in both the

developing and developed world and offer a useful working definition of the informal

economy. The informal economy is a "process of income generation characterized by one

central feature: it is unregulated by the institutions of society, in a legal and social

environment in which similar activities are regulated" (Castells & Portes, 1989, 12). In

other words, the informal economy refers to the process of production or distribution, not

the goods or services being sold. "The basic distinction between the formal and informal

activities proper does not hinge on the character of the final product, but on the manner in

which it is produced and exchanged" (Castells & Portes 1989, 15). Informal economic

activities always involve goods that are in and of themselves licit, but to a greater or

lesser degree are made or exchanged without the consideration of certain applicable

regulations. Moreover, any activity that produces or exchanges illicit goods is an illegal

activity, not an informal one, under this formulation. This working definition of informal

economic activity provides an important distinction between informal and illegal

activities. Moreover, this definition eliminates a clean distinction between indoor

businesses typically deemed part of the formal economy and outdoor vending which is

typically considered informal. Under this definition, either could be labeled informal if

relevant rules, such as tax payment, labor laws, etc. are not strictly obeyed. This

characterization makes it easy for one to distinguish between an illegal street vendor who

sells stolen or bootlegged merchandise and an informal vendor who sells licit goods in

violation of regulations controlling location, display size, taxation, or licensing.

John C. Cross examines the role of informal business, particularly street vending, in the

context of the contemporary US formal economy. Cross's analysis traces vending through

history in relation to the "modern" and "postmodern" eras. Cross uses the working

definition of the informal economy advanced by Portes et al. (1989), in which "the

informal sector is comprised of economic activity that uses illegal means to produce [or

distribute] legal products" (Cross 2000, 30). Cross points out that while most informal

activity has some illegality to it, "the distinction between 'appropriate' and 'inappropriate'

economic behavior is not a matter of laws or rules, but of definition, motives and power'

(Cross 2000, 33). In other words, when a legal line is drawn, it could easily have been

slightly more to one side or the other, depending on who influenced the creation of the

law. This distinction is particularly crucial to understanding vending in New York City,

where the only legal obstacle many vendors face is a cap on the number of licenses. In

this case a license ceiling, not a performance-based measure, determines the legality of


Vending conflicted with the efficiency-minded planning of the modernist era. Vendors

were decried as inefficient, but "the real problem was it was too competitive with formal

retail outlets" (Cross 2000, 42). "The solution … was to ban or over-regulate street

vendors while at the same time redesigning urban spaces in which they could no longer

exist" (Cross 2000, 42). This approach is consistent with Bluestone's analysis of New

York City's 1930s attack on vending. In the late 20th century, a reemergence of vending,

to Cross is "a rational reaction to the economic, cultural and social world of today,"

which is increasingly varied, i.e. postmodern (Cross 2000, 42).

Regina Austin provides a summary of the national trend in increased municipal

regulation of vendors throughout the United States in the early 1990s, noting that the new

regulations rarely favored vendors. Moreover, Austin found that "If regulations do not

explicitly ban street vending, they hamper it by limiting the number of vending licenses,

raising the licensing fees, restricting vending locations, or prescribing modes of operation

(including hours of operation, cart design, or table dimensions)" (Austin 1994, 2121).

Austin sees two distinct outcomes in vendor storeowner relationships. On one hand,

vendors can bring customers, safety and security. On the other hand they can serve as

competition and reduce the desirability of a commercial strip. She summarizes that

"vending conflicts, at base, are disputes about land use and property values" (Austin

1994, 2119) suggesting that it may not be storeowners who have anything against

vendors, but rather landlords or property owners who are looking to maximize rents.

Saskia Sassen coherently argues that the informal economy is made necessary by the

structure of the economy in large cities within developed countries. This view contrasts

earlier notions that informality was a vestige of undeveloped economies or later a

transplant from less developed countries via recent immigrants. Through extensive

research on New York City's informal sector, Sassen finds that "a good share of the

informal sector is not the result of immigrant survival strategies, but rather an outcome of

structural patterns or transformations in the larger economy of a city such as New York"

(Sassen 1988, 15).

Sassen deepens her argument in a later work, elaborating that "the roots of the

informalization of various activities are to be found in the currently prevailing

characteristics of the economy in general and of large urban economies in particular."

Sassen explains that a shrinking middle class, a growing high-income professional class,

and a growing low-income population have altered consumption patterns. To meet the

new consumption demands, the organization of work has evolved. In particular, Sassen

observes that the "fragmentation of what were once mostly homogeneous middle-class

markets" and the "internal needs of low-income communities" are drivers behind

informalization in the economy of developed countries (Sassen 1994, 2303).

William Mellor conducted an analysis of economic regulations in New York City that he

believes are responsible for encouraging informal economic activity and suppressing

entrepreneurship. Mellor views street vending regulations that combine a "permit ceiling

along with time-and-place restrictions" as a system of "double regulation" (Mellor 1996,

17). Mellor argues that while the regulations on vendor location may be theoretically

rationally related to promoting public health and safety, the licensing cap serves primarily

to limit entry into the field of street vending and may encourage unlicensed street vending

(Mellor 1996, 14).

Retail Development

The unplanned and independent nature of street vendors may seem fundamentally

opposed to the highly planned and centralized design of retail shopping centers.

However, lessons learned in retail development may be applicable to street vending,

which is essentially a form of retailing. Street vending regularly takes place in the

presence of indoor retail establishments. For the purpose of this study, the environment

created by the interface between street vending and indoor retail holds special


As the form of the modern enclosed shopping mall was being perfected in the middle of

the 20th century, developers noticed that people did less shopping in mall corridors that

were excessively wide. Malls were retrofitted with vendors in the center to create a

stronger visual interest. In SoHo vendors serve the same function, tightening the empty

spaces, increasing visual interest and keeping shoppers in "shopping mode."

Alexander Garvin highlights several highly successful and unsuccessful urban retail

developments in his study, The American City, What Works, What Doesn't. In a chapter

entitled "Ingredients of Success," Garvin emphasizes design, among other factors, as

being critical to the success of urban projects. Garvin recounts the story of the Southdale

mall, constructed in 1956 in Edina Minnesota as the "world's first shopping mall with its

common spaces skylit and air conditioned." The mall was built by the Dayton Hudson

Corporation and designed by the architect Victor Gruen. Because the mall was the first of

its kind, the builders "could only guess about the proper dimensions, and they guessed

wrong." According to Garvin, the central corridor of the mall, at 105 feet, was "too far for

customers to get a good look at the merchandise on the other side." An extension was

added between 1989 and 1991, which was only 58 feet wide. "To reduce apparent

distances across the older section of the concourse, its owners added a line of pushcarts

whose merchandise could attract the attention of shoppers as they zigzagged between

shop windows and pushcarts" (Garvin 2002, 17-18).

Garvin's observation about the excessive width of the Southdale mall corridor

underscores the need to maintain visual interest, specifically visual interest in things

available for purchase, in a shopping environment. In an urban environment, not only

width, but also the physical barrier of the street itself and the accompanying traffic,

obscure the shopper's ability to see the storefronts on the other side of the street.

Barbara Henderson-Smith reiterates Garvin's point by highlighting an influential

shopping center design manual, Design for Shopping Centres by Nadine Beddington.

Henderson-Smith notes that developers came to believe:

excessive widths would deter shoppers from crossing from one side of the arcade to
another, as well as inhibit the shoppers' view of shop windows on either side of the
arcade. Thus a minimum width for minor malls was considered to be between 5 and
6 metres [16 to 20 feet]. The main malls, on the other hand, needed a width of
between 13 and 15 metres [42 to 50 feet] to allow for "central features, pause areas,
with seating, planting, kiosks, play sculptures" (Beddington, 1982: 20). All of the
structures placed within the main malls needed to comply with regulations
regarding circulation routes. Designers argued that "if malls became either too wide
or too obscured, that shoppers would use one side only to the detriment of traders
on the other" (Beddington, 1982: 20). Careful balance was therefore needed in
designing the walkways so to maximise the shopper’s view of both sides of the
arcade. (Henderson-Smith 2003, 96-97).

Benefits of Street Vending

Previous studies have found that street vending provides distinct benefits, typically in the

form of lower priced merchandise and entrepreneurial opportunity. Informal economic

activity can lower costs where a mass market is not available, either in luxury niche

markets or poverty markets. Moreover, street vending is found to have symbolic value as

a modicum of success for persons otherwise excluded from economic activity.

Formal regulation increases the cost of goods such that "food and other essential goods

are more expensive in poor areas than in middle class areas" (Cross 2000, 39). This

curious phenomenon plays out because a poverty market does not provide the same mass-

market economies of scale as does a middle class area. Informality can make goods

affordable for the poor by saving costly regulatory compliance, where formality would

create a situation where goods are prohibitively expensive.

The informal economy also serves luxury niche markets, where economies of scale are

not available. "In the case of street vending this is most apparent in the growth of

'Farmers Markets' in the United States and their equivalents in other First World nations

that sell high priced vegetables and fruits to consumers willing to pay more for organic

foods or the assurance or at least the belief that their produce is fresh" (Cross 2000, 40).

Typically, informal activity, when serving luxury markets is viewed as legitimate and


Austin explains the benefits to an oppressed community, blacks in her example, in

operating informal street vending businesses.

Street vending fills a small part of the void created by the economic
marginalization of black Americans as workers, owners, and consumers. Illegal,
informal street vending employs people. It supplies blacks with goods they need
and want. It contributes to the maintenance of black culture. It challenges
nonblack businesses in black enclaves. It helps people gain the capital and know-
how to operate businesses in the formal sector. Finally, it is the site of grassroots
activity that could lead to new initiatives uniting the political and economic
concerns of blacks (Austin 1994, 2123).

Austin describes the goods sold by typical black vendors as not being particularly unique.

In fact she finds that most of this merchandise is manufactured or mass-produced, not

unique or handmade (Austin 1994, 2119). Despite the non-unique nature of the goods,

"street vending is an economically viable way of selling such goods (and of earning a

living)" (Austin 1994, 2119). Vendors are self-employed and can work whatever hours

they deem appropriate, "Because they are both close to their customers and maintain

relatively small stocks of goods, vendors can gauge shifts in customer demand and adjust

their inventories quickly" (Austin 1994, 2119). Vendors also typically charge less than

indoor stores because the vendors do not have rent, utility, wage and tax expenses. "This

makes the vendors' merchandise more affordable to poorer customers" (Austin 1994,


Accepting street vending as a legitimate part of the economy is an opportunity to affirm

the work of entrepreneurs in oppressed communities. Conversely, denying the legality of

street vending denies the legitimacy of business in black communities. Austin believes

that to build viable business in minority communities, "we will need to appreciate the

significance of even the seemingly most paltry forms of retailing" (Austin 1994, 2131).


Austin suggests that vendors form self-governing associations to set down "a commercial

culture or a set of business practices" which can boost consumer confidence. The

association could also advocate "vendors' interests in fights over regulation and policing"

and settle location disputes: "Vendor associations could also develop operating rules or

codes of conduct which could increase black consumers' confidence. In addition to acting

as a sort of trade association or chamber of commerce, vendor associations might use

their solidarity for economic purposes, such as bulk purchasing" (Austin 1994, 2129-


Cross contends that when planners and city officials accuse vendors of creating traffic

congestion, the "problem lies … in their preconceived notions of the 'appropriate' use of

public space. Street stalls get in the way of traffic precisely because city planners have

left them with no other viable place to go" (Cross 2000, 43).

Cross also attacks the tendency of academics and policymakers to try to formalize the

informal economy. Many want to see informal activity only as a stepping stone to formal

activity, not as a legitimate component of the economy. This perspective overlooks the

spirit of survival and flexibility that make the informal sector successful and the problems

related to unequal access and exploitation that put certain people at a disadvantage with

regard to their ability to enter the formal economy (Cross 2000, 44). Policies that

encourage vendors to move into markets, pay rents and keep regular hours, like those in

the 1930s, 1970s and 1990s in New York City are a clear extension of the formalization

tendency. These policies ignore the benefits the informal sector offers while failing to

confront the underlying pressures that necessitate informality.

Cross proposes the expansion of "zones of informality or semi-formality, rather than

expanding specific informal enterprises" as a way of harnessing the potential of informal

business without destroying and/or over-formalizing businesses. In this way, policy can

recognize and accept informal businesses and reduce the amount of enforcement of

certain rules to the bare minimum. These zones of informality need a certain level of self-

regulation in the absence of formal regulation. Street markets in Mexico City and flea and

farmers markets in the US are examples of the type of un-regulated yet self-regulated

spaces Cross envisions (Cross 2000, 45-46). These models have tailored regulations to

the site in which they exist and do not follow detailed regulations that apply to similar

businesses located outside of their zone.

The informal sector is an employment opportunity, notes Sassen and "… punishing

informal entrepreneurs and workers in low-income communities might contribute to

unemployment and marginalization" (Sassen 1988, 14). Sassen questions whether

informal activities that are labeled illegal might be "redefined in a more constructive

approach" (Sassen 1988, 14). Specifically Sassen proposes the idea of community zones,

which would be similar to "enterprise zones which grant tax concessions to formal and

often large firms." In contrast, community zones "would enjoy similar benefits, but only

for local entrepreneurs and individual contractors or self-employed workers" (Sassen

1988, 14).

4. Methodology

Research was conducted by qualitatively assessing the current New York City regulations

regarding street vending and by conducting two in-depth case studies of areas with both

vendors and stores in New York City. The case studies were informed by a historical

review of a third New York City vending location.

I conducted research on the case studies in a variety of ways. For the in-depth case

studies, I engaged in participant-observation, by shopping, casually conversing with

vendors and workers and observing shoppers at both locations. Following the participant-

observation, I conducted open-ended, unstructured interviews of store owners and

vendors and additional structured interviews with store owners and workers. My research

also included the review of primary sources including the NYC Administrative Code and

the Rules of the City of New York that apply to vending. In addition, I reviewed

newspaper and other popular press articles regarding vending issues in both study areas.

For the historical review/case study, I conducted research through review of newspaper

articles and popular media, observation and interviews with greenmarket representatives.

Case Study Selection

To determine the study areas for the in-depth case studies, I sought corridors where street

vending proliferates, and that also had a dense concentration of indoor retail

establishments. Moreover, I sought areas that constituted a discernible vendors' market,

an area notable not only for its concentration of vendors, but for its temporal and spatial

continuity and for the similarity of goods available. Another factor in study area selection

was the underlying vending laws. One location, West Broadway, was chosen where street

vending is permitted for first amendment vendors. A contrasting location, Flatbush

Avenue, was selected where city law forbids street vending for all classes of vendors. The

historical review was selected based on the apparent success of a unique vendors market,

the Union Square Greenmarket. See Figure 1 for the location of these sites. A brief

description of the study areas follows.

Figure 1: Location Map: Case Studies

The Union Square Greenmarket is reviewed to provide a historical perspective on

outdoor vending and urban development. The greenmarket is located in Union Square

Park in downtown Manhattan. See Figure 2 below for a site map. On market days

vendors (farmers) set up temporary stalls along the park's northern and western borders,

East 17th Street and Union Square West, respectively. Both the greenmarket and the

surrounding retail environment serve a local and sub-regional shopping clientele. That is,

shoppers travel from all parts of the city to Union Square, which has excellent transit

access via public subway and bus lines. At the greenmarket, a strict set of rules "in-

house" rules regulate vending, while city vending regulations are suspended. Only

farmers are permitted to vend at the greenmarket, which has strict days and hours of

operation. When the greenmarket is not "open," vending is not permitted on this site. The

case is of particular interest for two reasons: the greenmarket has been an instrumental

part of the resurgence of Union Square as a retail district; the greenmarket is self-

regulating and exempt from city vending regulations.

Figure 2: Site Map: Union Square Greenmarket

The first case study is West Broadway between Broome and Houston Streets in

Manhattan's SoHo district. See Figure 3 below for a site map. SoHo has a reputation as

an artists' neighborhood because of a history of artists inhabiting the formerly industrial

loft spaces here. City regulations now require residents in most parts of SoHo to certify

that they are artists. The vendors on West Broadway primarily sell artwork and jewelry,

although other products can often be found on sale here. General vending is banned daily

on West Broadway, meaning only food or first amendment vendors can legally vend.

SoHo attracts a great deal of tourists as shoppers along with many people from

throughout New York City. Many of the vendors drive and park their vehicles near their

vending spot to transport their goods and keep a stock on hand. Since parking is not

allowed during the week, and because shopping intensity is much greater on weekends,

this is a weekend-only vendors market. West Broadway itself has low vehicular traffic

volumes carrying one lane of traffic north and one lane south. The sidewalks are wide

compared to others in the neighborhood, at 20 feet, and carry high volumes of pedestrians

on weekends. The SoHo Partnership performs some duties comparable to a BID on West

Broadway, such as sidewalk cleaning, trash collection and shopping promotion, but is not

recognized as a special assessment district by the city and has no taxation authority.

Membership is voluntary and paid directly by businesses.

Figure 3: Site Map: West Broadway

The second case study is on Flatbush Avenue between Parkside Avenue and Cortelyou

Road in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. See Figure 4 below for a site map. This

is a heavily commercial strip serving the needs of local and sub-regional shoppers. Both

general and first amendment vending are banned daily, meaning that no vending is

permitted. On Flatbush Avenue many buildings and storefronts have small areas carved

out and rented to street vendors. Flatbush Avenue is a major traffic artery and

experiences heavy vehicular traffic on two lanes in each direction. Pedestrian traffic is

also heavy on the sidewalks, which, at about 12 feet wide, are more or less average for

the neighborhood, but somewhat small for a retail district. An officially recognized

Business Improvement District (special assessment district) governs this study area.

Membership is mandatory and limited to property owners, not storeowners.

Figure 4: Site Map: Flatbush Avenue

Research Limitations

The case study methodology has limitations, particularly with regard to the widespread

applicability of findings. Case studies are not comprehensive and they cannot represent

New York City vending in all of its permutations. The case studies provide an

opportunity to examine the dynamic between store owners and street vendors in two

specific locations, but not a complete picture of all such interactions between all store

owners and all vendors. The study provides a snapshot of the relationship between

vendors in store owners in two limited areas and a historical perspective on development

in a third area.

Street vending is in itself a broad catchall that encompasses sellers of a great variety of

goods, employing an array of sales methodologies. This study is limited to stationary

outdoor vendors, not mobile vendors. This study is also limited to goods and art vendors,

and does not address food cart vendors directly.

The particular character of the study neighborhoods cannot be taken as representative of

New York City as a whole in either demographic characteristics or commercial character,

even though they may be similar to some neighborhoods.

Because much of the research is interview-based, the findings depend partly on the

truthfulness of informants and the accuracy of their assessments. Interviews in the

business context are also hindered by the difficulty in assessing the actual causes of

business success or failure.

5. Historical Review: Union Square Greenmarket

Union Square is a neighborhood in Manhattan defined by proximity to Union Square

Park, a three and a half acre park at the crossroads of Broadway and East Fourteenth

Street. Today Union Square is a lively park surrounded by busy medium and large chain

retailers, well-known restaurants, New York University dormitories and residential

apartments. Union Square is also home to the busiest farmers' market in New York City.

However, in the late 1970s, the New York Times described the park and neighborhood as

"deteriorated," explaining that the area had become known for "a well-entrenched street

element – an assortment of derelicts, drug addicts, panhandlers and prostitutes" (Blau

1977, 26; Ellis 1976, 8:1; Hollie 1978, B3). Several revitalization schemes initiated by

private businesses with the help of the city had failed to transform Union Square, which

had recently suffered the closings of the popular Luchow's restaurant and S. Klein

department store (Oser 1976, 76; Perlmutter 1976, 43; Ellis 1976, 8:1).

Established in 1976, the Union Square greenmarket was an attempt to bring fresh produce

from nearby farms directly to consumers in New York City. The market was designed to

help farmers increase sales and improve New Yorkers' access to fresh local foods. The

market also acted as a hedge against drug dealers who had taken over the park by

inserting a new population of vendors and consumers into the space. This case is

significant in that outdoor vending was used as a policy tool to combat crime and

influence real estate development. Important differences exist between the greenmarket,

which consists of mostly white farmers and producers assisted by a well-funded quasi-

public organization, and street vendors, who are a racially and ethnically diverse group of

independent entrepreneurs. Nonetheless the greenmarket is significant as an example of a

public space that has been designated to encourage outdoor vending, rather than restrict

it. However, the greenmarket operates under a restrictive set of rules about how vendors

can qualify for space and sets forth strict hours of operation and policies and procedures

for vendors.

Although the greenmarket is seen today as a pleasant and wholesome connection to the

city's hinterlands, the founding of the greenmarket raised many of the same complaints as

street vending does today. In fact, on the first scheduled day of the greenmarket in Union

Square, police canceled the greenmarket because of fear that it would create congestion

on the sidewalks and streets (Sale at a Green Market Canceled by the Police 1976, 13).

As the greenmarket grew in popularity, local merchants complained that "farmers have an

unfair competitive edge since they pay no rent to the city, while the markets bottle up

traffic" (Wells 1979, 9).

Despite this early resistance, vendors at the greenmarkets had a much easier time holding

their ground than other street vendors. Their success is partly due to the fact that at the

flagship Union Square greenmarket and about 40 satellite locations in New York City,

the farmer-vendors are completely exempted from the city regulations concerning

vending. Furthermore, the Council on the Environment of New York City (CENYC), a

quasi-Mayoral agency, actively manages the greenmarkets and raises about $3 million

annually to support the markets. CENYC negotiates with the city about licensing

requirements and reserves the greenmarket sites on behalf of the vendors (Council on the

Environment of New York City 2006a).

Since the late 1990s, CENYC has secured many of the greenmarket sites through a single

license with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. The license covers

sites that are inside or within 30 feet of the perimeter of municipal parks. Other

greenmarkets take place on ordinary sidewalks and are permitted individually through a

recurring Street Activity Permit. This permit, issued by the Mayor's Community

Assistance Unit (CAU) is the same type of permit required for street fairs and block

parties. CAU consults with the city Department of Transportation, Police Department and

local Community Board before approving the Street Activity Permit, which outlines the

area that can be occupied by the greenmarket vendors (Halter 2006). CENYC holds some

greenmarkets on private sites and negotiates a contract with the owner.

None of the approximately 200 greenmarket vendors have licenses from the city's

Department of Health, nor do they vend from licensed carts, even though vendor and cart

licenses are required of all street food vendors in New York City. Instead, the vendors, as

farmers, fall under the jurisdiction of the New York State Department of Agriculture and

Markets, which does not require the greenmarket vendors to be licensed (Halter 2006;

Lewis 2006) The Department of Agriculture and Markets also inspects retailers of

produce who sell from fixed locations, such as grocery stores (Lewis 2006). The New

York City Department of Health ceded its authority to regulate the greenmarket vendors

in a memorandum of understanding signed with the Department of Agriculture and

Markets in 1978 (Halter 2006; Lewis 2006). The Department of Agriculture and Markets

does not license or require food vending carts. Instead it inspects the greenmarkets to

ensure adequate food protection measures are being taken (Lewis 2006). Most, but not

all, of the greenmarket locations, including Union Square, have exclusive reserved

parking for the vendors to park their vehicles, which are used for both transportation and

on-site storage and refrigeration.

The CENYC says it needs to operate with its own rulebook, exempted from city

regulations because city licensing requirements would be a "disincentive to farmers" to

participate in the greenmarkets. CENYC has found that it is "hard enough to convince

farmers to come down" because of the long drive and long workday the greenmarket

entails for them and their unfamiliarity with the city. The city's licensing and location

restrictions would constitute another hurdle to the implementation of greenmarkets. In

fact, since food vending cart permits are capped and none are currently available, the

greenmarkets could not operate at all without an exemption from city regulations.

In exchange for their exemption from city vending regulations, greenmarket vendors

must submit to a strict set of rules designed and enforced by CENYC and meet the health

protection requirements set by the Department of Agriculture and Markets (Lewis 2006).

Farmer-vendors do not choose their spots; rather CENYC staff controls the location of all

vendor tables and displays at each greenmarket site. CENYC also requires all

greenmarket vendors to collect sales taxes and to register with the city for unincorporated

business tax, an income tax on self-employed persons. Finally, CENYC enforces strict

hours of operation. At most greenmarkets that means vendors "have to be there and ready

to sell when … markets open at 8 am" and they must usually "stay the full day" according

to CENYC (Halter 2006).

The flagship greenmarket has now become an integral part of the identity of Union

Square and has helped to define the retail character of the surrounding neighborhood. The

produce vendors blazed a trail for high-end retail in Union Square by making Union

Square a shopping destination, attracting 250,000 customers per week during the peak of

the growing season (Council on the Environment of New York City 2006b). The vendors

now enjoy formal financial support from some of their neighboring retailers (The Council

on the Environment of New York City 2006a). Over time the crowds of shoppers

attracted to the open-air market helped spur the redevelopment of Union Square’s

surrounding blocks and redefined the location as a source of fresh, wholesome food.

Union Square’s food-centered redevelopment was recently capped when Whole Foods

and Trader Joe’s, two high-rent national chain retailers known for organic foods, joined

such neighbors as the Union Square Café, a restaurant consistently voted to be the city’s

best, and the Food Emporium, an expensive gourmet grocery store, which had both

followed the greenmarket’s trailblazing (Fabricant 2006, F3; Shaw 2005).

Since the founding of the Union Square Greenmarket, many smaller satellite

greenmarkets have been deployed to neighborhoods throughout the City both as a

farmers' economic development measure in gentrifying neighborhoods and as a

countermeasure against nutritional redlining in high-poverty neighborhoods with poor

availability of fresh produce. Despite its success, the model has not been used to inform

street vending policies, nor examined to see if lessons learned from the greenmarkets can

be applied to other types of vending.

Greenmarkets operate throughout New York City with unlicensed vendors selling legally,

although not in accord with the city's vending regulations. Instead, the greenmarket

organizers have developed an internal system of regulations, one that can be tailored to

the individual opportunities and constraints of a given market site. Moreover, the

greenmarket regulations are used as a promotional tool to instill consumer confidence in

the authenticity of the vendors as farmers and their reputability as taxpayers. The city

accepted an alternate and quite different method of establishing health protection and

ceded its control over food vendors to the State Department of Agriculture and Markets.

In doing so, the city also allowed a system of vendors markets to develop over and above

its license cap, yet still vending on public property.

The greenmarket case illustrates that successful vendors' markets can exist beyond the

city's license cap and outside of the spatial and regulatory constraints normally placed on

vending. Moreover, greenmarkets highlight the potential for limited, spatially

concentrated zones of relaxed regulation to benefit not only vendors, but also surrounding

landowners and business people. Alternate and location-tailored vendor regulatory

schemes are a policy area that deserves further study, especially with regard to the

applicability of this type of scheme for non-farmer vendors.

6. Case Study 1: West Broadway

West Broadway between Broome and Houston Streets in Manhattan's SoHo

neighborhood is a retail strip defined by art galleries, clothing stores, spas and a dense

agglomeration of street vendors, especially those dealing in art and jewelry. Vendors

typically sell on Saturdays and Sundays, but not on weekdays. On weekends, when more

than 110 vendors sell here, these three blocks of West Broadway are a popular shopping

destination for tourists. During weekdays, street vendors are rarely present, and the

approximately 90 retail stores share the street with just a few food vendors.

Before conducting interviews on West Broadway, I engaged in participant-observation

during several field visits on both weekend and weekdays. Nineteen open-ended

interviews were conducted with owners and workers in clothing stores, jewelry stores, art

galleries, spas/beauty product stores, and opticians. Although the interviews were open

ended, they were structured. All interviewees were asked: their opinions of vending on

West Broadway; whether they believed that there were too few, too many or just the right

amount of vendors; whether they believed that vendors hurt or helped their business;

whether they believed that vendors contributed to an overall shopping environment;

whether the interviewees interact with vendors; whether the interviewees had established

informal ground rules with any vendors; and whether the interviewees would change the

New York City vending regulations if they could.

Key findings:
• Store owners are pleased that "general vending" is banned and that "first
amendment" vending is allowed on West Broadway

• Those interviewed generally believed that vendors helped their business by
attracting customers to West Broadway
• Vendors and store owners interact regularly
• Local informal regulations proved more controlling over vendor location than
official city regulations
• Driving force behind these informal rules is a concern that vendors might block
visual access to store windows, an issue not addressed by city regulations
• Some of the vendors drive to West Broadway, parking is a point of contention
• Most store owners and workers were too unfamiliar with city vending regulations
to propose changes, at best they had only a cursory knowledge of the rules rooted
more in common sense that familiarity with the codes
• The presence of vendors profoundly changes the visual structure of the shopping
environment on West Broadway

Art District

The ban on general vending on West Broadway establishes a space where only book and

art vendors may legally sell. There was an overwhelming consensus among those

interviewed that art vendors were more appropriate for SoHo, which has a reputation as

being an arts community, than vendors selling other non-art merchandise such as

handbags, scarves and hats. Ironically, many of the galleries that established this arts

reputation for SoHo have given way to national chain retailers of clothing, furniture and

personal accessories. Art vendors preserve the artistic feel of SoHo without occupying

the high-rent storefronts coveted by retailers. In addition to selling artwork, numerous

vendors produce art on-site, increasing the creative vibe exuded by the vendors' market.

Many interviewees emphasized that street vending contributed to a quintessential New

York ambiance and helped to fulfill the shopping expectations of tourists who anticipated

shopping not only in stores but also on the sidewalks. "Art [sold by vendors] contributes

to the mystique of SoHo," noted a worker in a clothing store. In an optical shop selling

designer eyeglasses, one worker explained that the vendors become "an event for people

to come down [to SoHo]. They get people to hang out." He emphasized that street

vendors are "part of the fabric of New York" and are "important in the way people

experience New York." Several interviewees suggested that the street vendors were the

primary draw to West Broadway for shoppers. Others suggested that the draw was the

combination of stores and vendors that gives West Broadway higher level of vitality than

a street with only stores. The ban on general vending is the only aspect of the city's

regulations that seems to be routinely followed by vendors on West Broadway.

Vendors: a Draw to Shoppers

Store owners and workers interviewed on West Broadway typically expressed a belief

that the vendors both drew shoppers to the area and contributed to an overall shopping

environment. Some owners and workers had mixed or ambivalent feelings about vendors,

but most agreed that the vendors helped their business and increased overall levels of

shopping. One store worker in a jewelry and accessories shop noted that the presence of

the vendors means "more clients for both stores and vendors on weekends" and that

"SoHo without vendors would be boring." Another owner of a sculpture gallery felt that

by selling "an interesting mix of things" the vendors provide intrigue that the stores on

their own might lack. He also started selling the work of one local vendor in his gallery.

A worker in a store selling women's make-up and other beauty products believed that her

store was helped by the presence of vendors because they "make the street more lively."

Even though she feels that the crowds drawn by vendors is "a bit much at times …

commotion is motion," and motion "brings life to the street." One worker in a spa

empathically noted that vendors mean "more business, more business!" She believes that

the vendors are a particular draw to "tourists and travelers."

Storeowner/Vendor Interactions

Many store owners and workers have interacted with the vendors on West Broadway.

The interactions ranged from exchanging greetings to establishing informal ground rules

about how business will be conducted on West Broadway. The informal ground rules

place additional restrictions on vending and grant additional privileges to vendors not

called out in the city's regulations as further discussed below.

Informal Rules

Despite the positive attitude many store owners and workers had toward vendors and the

impact of vending on indoor retail businesses, some storeowners felt the need to establish

rules above and beyond or in lieu of the city's regulations governing vending, to protect

their businesses from the perceived threats of vending. Since the enforcement of the city

regulations is triggered by complaints from storeowners, the informal regulations serve as

a substitute and obviate the need for formal enforcement measures. The informal

regulations add stability to the vendor storeowner relationship and clarify expectations in

light of the fact that neither storeowners nor vendors have a firm understanding of the

city rules.

Many of the informal regulations address the visibility of storefronts. To ensure that

shoppers will be able to see the large display windows of storefronts, many stores have

brokered deals about the location and size of vendors' displays. Storeowners ask vendors

to position tables away from store windows, not to lean on or near windows when resting

or seeking shade or shelter and not to sit near windows or on window ledges. Implied in

these requests is assurance that storeowners will not harass vendors who comply with the

above rules, nor complain to police about their presence. Some storeowners reciprocate

compliance by offering bathroom facilities and shelter from weather to vendors. The

official city clearance standards for vendors' displays (20 feet from the nearest store or

building entrance) are waived for many vendors so long as window views are preserved.

The negotiations often favored the store owners, with lopsided deals in which vendors

typically give more than they get. Some store owners pushed the informal regulations

further. In one case, an owner of an art gallery located in a narrow storefront invoked the

"narrow storefront clause," which is a local informal rule that has gained the weight of a

legitimate regulation. This rule empowers owners of stores that have 12 feet or fewer of

street frontage to deny vendors the right to set up in front of the narrow storefront. Even

though this provision is found nowhere in the city's regulations covering vending, the

tactic has been successful in allaying this particular storeowner's fears that a vendor

might block his windows. He said he usually allows vendors to sell in front of his store,

but knowing that he can ask them to leave gives him comfort.

A store worker in a women's designer clothing store said that she does not allow vendors

to set up in front of the store. She tells the vendors that the rule is "company policy" and

that it is within the company's discretion to make such rules since "they own the

sidewalk." The store did not have any difficulty enforcing this rule against vendors even

though the rule has no clear basis in the official city rules. Furthermore, the same worker

has made friends with several vendors, and did not believe the rule had anything to do

with vendor competition, since none sell clothing. Rather, the policy is the "only way we

can be sure they won't block the windows."

An owner of an art gallery described an extreme case, in which he established a rule that

all vendors must "stay away from the storefront" of his gallery. The gallery owner

complained to police about vendors in front of his gallery, who could not find any

violation with vendors operations. The owner said the police asked him, "don't you have

to hose down your sidewalk?" before they left the gallery. The gallery owner then

sprayed the vendors with water in what he calls an "ugly but effective" incident.

These informal agreements introduce a level of stability and relative harmony that allow

a more or less peaceful coexistence of stores and street vendors. However, the lopsided

nature of the agreements, prompted by the confusing and poorly understood vending and

sidewalk ownership regulations, allows stores to exert control over vendors and gain the

upper hand in negotiations. In many cases however, the restrictions imposed on the

vendors are minor and may be coupled with exemptions to certain city-imposed

regulations. Vendors typically submit to the restrictions to avoid further conflict and to

continue vending in a lucrative area with high volumes of foot traffic.

Complaints Against Vendors

A few of the interviewed storeowners are not happy with the presence of the vendors and

one feels complete animosity toward vendors. Those who do not believe that vendors

help their business complain that the vendors occupy a disproportionate amount of the

street parking (which is only allowed by city regulations during the weekends and

between 6pm and 8am during the week). Other complaints are that vendors create

sidewalk congestion and leave garbage on the sidewalks.

Confusion Over Vending Rules & Irregular Enforcement

According to interviewees, police enforce vending regulations in response to complaints

only and even then, a response in not guaranteed. Regular enforcement does not occur.

Moreover, the enforcement officers, when they are present, do not have any better grasp

on the regulations than either the store owners or vendors, further complicating

enforcement. The only well-understood and obeyed regulation is that against general

vending, other regulations such as display size and placement are routinely overlooked

and/or superseded by local informal rules. The lack of enforcement creates a vacuum of

regulation in which the store owners and vendors have established their own set of


Visual Effect on the Shopping Environment

Vendors on West Broadway, positioned on the sidewalk, near the curbline on both sides

of the street, profoundly change the shopping environment of the street. Because vending

does not take place weekdays it is easy to make a physical comparison of the street as a

retail environment on weekdays versus weekends, when vendors are present. On

weekdays, the street functions as a single shopping corridor with the storefronts and

building facades forming the walls of the corridor. Parking is not permitted from 8am to

6pm weekdays, and while the street has two lanes of moving traffic, it is relatively

isolated from city traffic patterns, serving primarily local traffic. The northern section of

West Broadway (which is separated from the Southern section by a park) begins at

Lispenard Street and ends at Washington Square south, extending only three quarters of a

mile in length. The light volumes of traffic do not constitute an absolute visual barrier

between the east and west sides of the street, but the 75-foot distance from one storefront

to another does. Walking on the east side of the street a weekday shopper can easily view

the window displays on the east side of the street. The same shopper can see the stores on

the opposite side of the street, but cannot window shop without crossing over.

On weekends, when vendors set up their displays along the curb they form two additional

walls of "storefronts," breaking the street up into two distinct shopping corridors, one on

each side of the street. West Broadway's sidewalks are about 20 feet wide, wider than

most sidewalks in SoHo, and the goods on vendor's tables and in store windows are

easily viewable as shoppers walk down the sidewalk. Some proprietors worried that the

vendors' displays block their windows when viewed from across the street. However, one

store owner observed that vendors encouraged people to take a closer look not only at

vendors' wares, but also in the storefront display windows by breaking the street down

into more easily manageable corridors. She noted that when vendors are present shoppers

are more likely to stroll up one side of the street and down the other because there is

Figures 5 & 6: West Broadway Shopping Environment

West Broadway on a typical weekday (top) and on a typical weekend (above).

simply more to see, rather than trying to take in all of the storefronts in one pass as

shoppers do on weekdays.

In other words, shoppers can look at interesting displays approximately 10 feet on either

site of them as they shop. They experience a more visually stimulating shopping

environment and are not straining to see the window displays about 70 feet distant on the

far side of the street.

Overly complex and confusing regulations and spotty enforcement created a regulatory

vacuum which store owners and vendors seized as an opportunity to create a new set of

vending regulations for West Broadway. The regulations are uniquely tailored to each

site and depend partly on the continuity of vendors occupying the same spot week after

week. Because enforcement of the city regulations is triggered primarily by complaint,

the businesses of West Broadway are more or less free to create these new rules, so long

as they are not controversial. The informal arrangements between stores and vendors give

storeowners an added level of comfort that vendors are not impinging on businesses.

Meanwhile, both store owners and vendors benefit by maintaining the stability of the

vendors market. The change in the shopping environment created by vendors results in a

shopping public that has better visual access to merchandise, a more stimulating shopping

environment with a greater diversity of products and a greater range of prices from which

to select.

7. Case Study 2: Flatbush Avenue

Flatbush Avenue from Parkside Avenue to Cortelyou Road in the Flatbush neighborhood

of Brooklyn is a busy commercial strip approximately three quarters of a mile long.

It serves local and sub-regional shoppers in clothing, food, housewares, convenience

items, electronics, with a mix of local retailers and national chains. The area is in the

midst of a large West Indian residential neighborhood and consequently the vast majority

of shoppers are of West Indian descent with some stores catering directly to this

population by selling traditional foods.

Recent Vending Crackdown

As recently as the late 1990s, this section of Flatbush Avenue had been know for a

thriving on-street vendor's market (Johnson 1999). However, all vending, including first

amendment vending, is banned by the city in this study area (Rules of the City of New

York, Title 6, Subchapter AA, §2-314). Police crackdowns beginning in the late 1990s

and continuing through today have displaced many of the vendors from Flatbush Avenue

to side streets and to a city-sponsored market on Flatbush Avenue at Caton Avenue called

the Flatbush-Caton Merchants Mart (Constant 2004). Originally a section of a city-owned

parking lot, the market is now an indoor facility in which vendors must rent stalls sharing

more similarities with a mini-mall than with street vending. Other vendors have moved to

Tilden Avenue, just off of Flatbush Avenue on a busy block that leads up to a new Super

Stop & Shop grocery store where vending is unrestricted. While foot traffic is high here,

it remains secondary to that of Flatbush Avenue. Moreover, space is limited in the

Flatbush-Caton Merchants Mart and on Tilden Avenue. Together these sites do not

accommodate all of the vendors displaced from Flatbush Avenue.

Doorway Vendors

Vendors, especially mobile vendors employing wheeled carts and selling food (peanuts,

mangoes), still ply their trade on Flatbush, risking arrest and confiscation of their goods.

Some vendors, less conspicuous than the mobile vendors, yet ubiquitous on Flatbush

Avenue are also present, tucked into small nooks within buildings. So-called "doorway

vendors" sell a variety of goods, but mostly hats, t-shirts, sweatshirts, belts, CDs,

children's clothing, jewelry and other accessories, from small alcoves along Flatbush

Avenue. Usually tucked into the Figure 7: Flatbush Avenue Doorway Vendor

vestibules that at one time served as

entrances to the apartments above

stores, doorway vendors enjoy a

considerably more stable and

harassment-free existence than their

street vending counterparts, despite

the fact that doorway vendors are no

more legal than street vendors. More

than 25 doorway vendors were

observed on numerous recent trips Doorway vendor on Flatbush Avenue occupies the
entrance to the abandoned upper floors of a building
to Flatbush Avenue.

According to store workers on Flatbush Avenue, doorway vendors rent vestibules, small

alcoves carved out of storefronts, or even a portion of a store's main entrance from the

building owner. Some also rent an upper floor of the building in which they store their

merchandise and live. Their small street frontage, usually just three feet, is typically

overflowing with merchandise. Doorway vendors are routinely ticketed by police if the

display encroaches too far onto the sidewalk, but are usually left alone if they keep their

goods contained despite the fact that most doorway vendors operate in violation of the

city's fire code, buildings code and vending regulations for "stoopline" vending. I was not

able to ascertain the rents paid by doorway vendors on Flatbush Avenue. As a point of

reference, similarly situated stoopline vendors studied by John Gaber on 14th Street in

Manhattan in 1990 and 1991 paid about $4000 monthly rent for three-foot by six-foot

spaces (Gaber 1994, 389).

Storeowners and workers agreed almost unanimously that the doorway vendors did not

have a negative impact on larger storefront business. Storeowners and workers also noted

that the vendors have a distinct draw and shoppers who came for bargains for vendors are

likely to continue shopping at stores on Flatbush Avenue. Moreover, since vendors and

storefront windows are directly adjacent to one another, one worker mentioned to me that

"you might be looking at a vendor's stuff, but then something in the store catches your


Doorway vending brings a permanence and stability to the location of vendors. The

permanence enables informal negotiation between storeowners and vendors and increases

tolerance of vending. In one store, the doorway vendor had been there for thirteen years

and the store only about one year. One worker in the store noted that the "boss has to

negotiate all the time" with their doorway vendor about the placement of her wares.

However, this method of conflict resolution is preferred to any official enforcement

because, "everybody on Flatbush knows everybody" and people prefer to "handle all

problems locally."

Vendors also expand the variety and price of goods available on Flatbush Avenue.

Interviewees consistently mentioned that vendors were known for their bargains, and that

haggling over prices with vendors is customary. In this regard, vendors are an important

complement to the higher-priced goods offered by larger stores.

Finally, the doorway vendors provide a direct financial benefit to building owners in the

form of rent. Since many building owners in this study area have decided to abandon the

residential units on the upper floors of buildings and focus strictly on their retail tenants,

the entryway to the upper floors is not needed. The vendors are a bonus source of income.

Moreover, the vendors are clearly wanted by landlords, who, if they believed vendors

were harming their tenants in their primary storefront, could simply not offer the

doorways for rent.

Despite the benefits vendors provide, the doorway vending phenomenon is a distinctly

exploitative one. On Flatbush Avenue, like West Broadway, enforcement of the vending

regulations is typically triggered by complaints. The doorway vendors, predominantly

African immigrants, are essentially paying rent to landlords and storeowners not to

complain to the police. While they may enjoy less police harassment as a result, the

vendors have not actually improved their legal status, and remain vulnerable to both fines

and eviction. Moreover, the financial burden of rent forces the vendors to try to sell more

merchandise. The only way many vendors can increase sales is by encroaching back onto

the sidewalk and increasing the visibility of their wares. The uneven enforcement of

vending laws, in which sidewalk vendors are targeted, but doorway and stoopline vendors

are left alone, enables this exploitative relationship to exist. Meanwhile, doorway vending

constitutes legal violations not only by the vendor, but also by the building owners who

illegally rent their doorway space.

On Flatbush Avenue the police crackdown on vending was met by three distinct

strategies to preserve vending, the indoor vendors market, the establishment of a new

informal vendors market on Tilden Avenue and the proliferation of doorway vendors.

The first two strategies are simply variations on compliance with the city regulations. The

doorway vendors are the most notable of the three strategies because this approach

attempts to subvert the city regulations and keep the vendors on Flatbush Avenue.

Moreover, the vendors, storeowners and landlords conducted the doorway vendor

movement as willing, however unequal, partners. Since the vendors themselves are in a

position of lesser power, doorway vending is executed to benefit landlords and

storeowners more and vendors less. In addition, doorway vending fails to improve the

legal status of vendors while increasing their financial burdens.

8. Conditions That Foster Synergy

The case studies presented illustrate situations in which street vendors and indoor retail

establishments achieved varying levels and types of synergy. It is now worth examining

these cases for general conditions under which such synergies may be achieved

elsewhere. The type of goods sold by the vendors and the stores is perhaps a key factor in

determining whether vendors and stores will work together. If the goods being sold by

vendors are "high class," and attract a similar clientele as the target customer of the

stores, they may enjoy synergy. Likewise, if the vendors and stores sell goods that are

complementary, but not directly competitive, they may enjoy synergy. If vendors offer

goods that are downscale from stores, they may create a range of prices that draws more

customers than either could draw on their own. The clustering of vendors to create and

identifiable vendors' market also plays a role in fostering synergy between vendors and


When vendors sell an upscale good that attracts a wealthy clientele, nearby retail

establishments benefit from the presence of these shoppers. In the case of the Union

Square greenmarket, the vendors drew customers who were more concerned with the

perception of quality in foods than they were with price. Moreover, shoppers at the

greenmarket seek a rich and pleasant shopping experience in which they can interact with

growers of food. This customer base proved attractive to both high-end restaurateurs and

food retailers. Whole Foods and the Union Square Café, like the greenmarket, depend on

a well-off clientele that values food quality over low prices. Because the vendors in the

greenmarket draw an upmarket crowd, the market is a magnet for other retail uses that

seek customers with significant disposable income.

A second condition that fosters synergy between vendors and stores occurs when vendors

diversify the type of goods for sale in a retail district. In the West Broadway vendors'

market, vendors offer relatively inexpensive original art and jewelry that complement the

mass-produced clothing and accessories of many of the stores. The art galleries that

remain on West Broadway tend to specialize in well-known artists and sell art that is in a

completely different price category than the art sold by street vendors and the clothing in

the adjacent stores. By selling different goods in a similar price categories the vendors

and stores on West Broadway are able to share customers without competing for

business. The diversification of goods for sale has a wider appeal than would art or

clothing on its own. When vendors offer different goods from stores, but in a similar

price category, synergy is possible.

A third condition under which vendors and stores can work together is if vendors offer

downscale goods compared to stores. On Flatbush Avenue, the doorway vendors are

known for their bargains, selling inexpensive hats, belts, and basic clothing items. The

items sold by vendors are often of the same type offered by stores, but are of markedly

lower price and quality. The vendors and store are able to achieve a limited synergy

because the difference in price and quality between vendors and stores is well known.

The merchandise offered by each is viewed almost as two different products. The price

differentiation achieved by this arrangement increased the draw of Flatbush Avenue to

customers. For instance, a shopper may purchase a fairly expensive pair of shoes in a

store, then buy an inexpensive belt or hat from a vendor to match. Conversely, a shopper

may go to Flatbush to buy inexpensive socks from a vendor and then purchase a shirt that

caught his or her eye in the window of an adjacent store. The diversification of prices

creates a draw to shoppers of different motivations. Both bargain hunters and shoppers

seeking higher quality goods are drawn to Flatbush. Either category of shopper is

unlikely to substitute between vendors and stores, but shoppers might make additional

impulse purchases once they have already begun shopping.

In all cases studies, vendors were clustered together spatially and thematically, creating a

vendors' market that can be identified visually and described by its location and the type

of goods sold. The clustering of a critical mass of vendors is a draw to shoppers. A retail

district that has few vendors is not likely to be known for its vendors or their goods.

However, in each case study the retail districts are defined by the presence of vendors and

a certain theme that connects their goods. Union Square is known as a market for fresh

foods. West Broadway is known as a market for original artwork and jewelry and

Flatbush Avenue is known as a market for bargain clothing and accessories. The spatial

and thematic clustering in each case creates an identity and a location to which customers

are drawn specifically to the vendors. Once at these vendors markets, customers often

shop at vendors' tables and in retail stores nearby.

In general, it seems that vendors add value to retail districts either by attracting a

desirable clientele or diversifying the goods available either in kind or in price. The

diversification of goods and prices might not otherwise be possible given the constraints

of operating indoor retail stores. By utilizing public space to intensify the retail

environment vendors are able to provide this added diversity. In all three case studies, the

combination of indoor retail and street vending produces a vibrant retail district with a

greater attraction to shoppers than either the street vendors or the stores would have

alone. Moreover, by clustering spatially and thematically, vendors create a distinct

identity and draw for each of the retail districts studied.

9. Recommendations for Further Study

Further study could help to illuminate three key issues raised by this thesis. Firstly,

conducting similar studies in different locations throughout New York City could test the

applicability of the findings. Secondly, while we have anecdotal evidence of the synergy

of street vending and other commercial activity, additional work is needed to quantify the

economic impact of the presence of vendors on New York City's economy. Thirdly,

consumers are an important component of all shopping-related economic activity and

should be integrated into further study.

Since this study was conducted in two discrete study areas, the applicability of the

findings to other locations, stores and vendors is unknown. Further study could attempt to

extend this study to a broad variety of other neighborhoods and illuminate which findings

can be generalized and which are exclusive to the conditions in particular commercial


This study has given a snapshot of the informal networks and agreements existing

between vendors and storeowners in two distinct study areas. It has also revealed the

opinion of storeowners and workers with regard to vendors. Additional work is needed to

quantify the economic impact of these social phenomena. The economic value of vending

activity, both in terms of direct impact in the form of revenues and sales and income

taxes generated by vendors, as well as the economic impacts vendors have on indoor

businesses is unknown. A solid understanding of the economic importance of vending

should be pursued to bolster our understanding of the social significance.

Finally, this study focuses primarily on storeowners and vendors, but obviously the

customers of both must be considered for a complete understanding of the value of

vending to New York City. A customer survey could heighten our understanding of who

shops with vendors and why. This information would be useful in informing any future

policy on vendors.

10. Conclusion

Three sites in New York City illustrate three different synergies between informal

vendors and formal retail establishments. An exploration of these three sites and the

vendor/storefront dynamics present therein provides a basis for challenging the

conventional wisdom that vendors and storefronts cannot coexist. Further, the synergies

present in these three sites represent a potential for the creation of new policies that

capitalize on the symbiosis of vending and storefront businesses.

In Union Square, a city- and business-sponsored greenmarket consisting of regional

farmers and food producers selling their goods from tables and stands along the edge of a

park is a popular shopping destination. Thirty years ago, the greenmarket began to

reclaim Union Square Park from a reputation as a deteriorating eyesore. The farmers

selling here never obtained city vending licenses and continue to operate in a self-

regulated environment. Over time the crowds of shoppers attracted to the open-air market

helped spur the redevelopment of Union Square’s surrounding blocks and redefined the

location as a source of fresh, wholesome food.

On West Broadway in Manhattan’s SoHo, art and jewelry vendors line the sidewalks of a

mid- to high-end retail strip consisting primarily of clothing stores. The vendors deal in

goods that complement, but rarely compete with the indoor shops. Vendors operate in

violation of city regulations, but in compliance with a set of local informal guidelines

negotiated with the storeowners that supersede city law. Moreover, the vendors enhance

the consumer environment, increasing the level of visual interest to shoppers who

“window shop” in both the windows of boutiques and the tables of vendors. The effect is

a unified consumption environment, where the visual barrier of a two-lane street, with

two additional lanes of parked cars is mitigated by the rows of vendors. In essence, West

Broadway is no longer a single shopping street, but is redefined as two "malls" by the

presence of the vendors.

On Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, a vending ban implemented in the late 1990s by the

City at the local business improvement district’s request has cleared the sidewalks of the

tables and carts of the Caribbean vendors. Vendors remain, assisted by local building

owners, who regularly offer for sublease open-air micro-sections of storefronts – in some

cases, just a horizontal space on the shop’s front wall – keeping the bustling, colorful

atmosphere of the strip alive.

The literature has shown that informal street vending is an essential component of and

tightly intertwined with the formal economy in developed world cities. Scholars have

suggested developing zones of relaxed regulations to incubate informal business. The

cases presented here have shown that storeowners, commonly assumed to be rivals of

street vendors, have developed informal regulatory schemes to preserve local vendors'

markets, which the storeowners believe are a boon to their businesses.

However, current city regulations seem designed to snuff vending out, rather than harness

and direct its positive potential. The absolute cap on the number of vending licenses and

long list of streets where vending is forbidden place oppressive limitations on vending

that do not fully address the legitimate complaints against vending and fail to capitalize

on the potential synergy between vending, other retailing and urban development.

New York’s vending policy should be reengineered with an aim of aligning willing and

eager vendors with legal opportunities to create a synergistic business/vendor

environment. Policy should focus not on how to stifle vending, but on how to plan for the

successful integration of vendors into the city’s economy.

11. Policy Implications

The cases presented illustrate three vendors' markets in New York City that have

developed alternate means of regulation, outside of New York City's formal regulations.

When official city policies proved too restrictive to create or preserve vendors' markets,

creative workarounds supplanted the city's rules. The cases highlight the transformative

power of vendors' markets, the ineffectiveness of traditional enforcement methods for

vending rules and the ineffectiveness of licensing caps; lessons which can be used to

inform future policy.

Transformative Power of a Vendors' Market

The Union Square greenmarket and West Broadway cases suggest that vendors' markets

have the power to transform urban public spaces and retail environments over both the

long and short term. In Union Square, the greenmarket drew shoppers, who had stopped

coming to the area as popular restaurants and department stores closed in the 1970s. The

greenmarket slowly redefined a space that was gaining a reputation as a haven for

derelicts by establishing Union Square Park as a site for the purchase of wholesome fresh

foods. The magnitude of shoppers and changing image of the park were some of the

factors that helped Union Square become a magnet for intense restaurant, retail,

institutional and residential development throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.

On West Broadway, the presence of weekend vendors undeniably alters the shopping

environment seen on weekdays. The more than 110 vendors, who outnumber retail

storefronts each weekend, create a vibrant, unique and visually stimulating shopping

environment. During the week, the strip of stores, many of which can be found in any

city of the country, seems sleepy. Moreover, vendors visually divide the street into two

distinct corridors, encouraging shoppers to explore both sides of West Broadway and

examine vendor and storefront displays more closely. These findings reinforce Gaber's

discovery that 14th Street Vendors help stores by "complementing the existing array of

goods" and creating "a unique shopping environment that attracts additional shoppers"

(Gaber 1994, 399). Current city policies regarding street vending seek to limit the

number and location of street vendors, rather than direct or harness the transformative

power of vendors' markets. Consideration should be given to policies that formally

designate vendors markets, such as the greenmarket, and that legitimize informal vendors'

markets, like that on West Broadway.

Traditional Enforcement Ineffective

Enforcement of vending regulations by police can only be sustained for short periods of

time in limited geographic areas. Historically, vending laws have been enforced in

response to complaints or during periods of crackdown, not systematically or regularly. A

problem that complicates enforcement is the lack of severity of vending crimes. Police

focus their efforts on serious crimes that threaten health and safety, and can only enforce

vending regulations when not responding to serious crimes. A policy goal should be to

relieve the enforcement burden and seek situations that encourage self-regulation of

vendors. The extremely detailed and strict vending regulations created by the city put an

undue enforcement burden on police, while failing to address concerns that may be

relevant only to certain locations.

All three cases illuminate different local vending regulation schemes. In Union Square

and at other greenmarkets throughout the city, greenmarket administrators convinced the

city to sign over its enforcement authority to the State Department of Agriculture and

Markets and CENYC. At all of these greenmarkets, an alternate system of regulation

involving state health inspections and CENYC-controlled location assignments

supersedes the city's vending rules. On West Broadway, storeowners and vendors have

taken advantage of the city's complaint-triggered enforcement of vending rules to create

individual informal rules for each vending site on the street. Flatbush Avenue landlords

and vendors developed a scheme to avoid regulation that capitalizes on the heightened

enforcement of sidewalk vending rules and the lack of enforcement of stoopline vending


The informal regulatory schemes echo the "zones of informality" and "community zones"

advocated by Cross and Sassen, respectively (Cross 2000, 45; Sassen 1988, 14). Because

it is easy for vendors and storeowners to subvert vending regulations, vending policy-

makers should acknowledge the impracticality and ineffectiveness of traditional

enforcement methods and the eagerness of vendors and storeowners to develop

regulations together. The city's policy of area-wide vending bans might be redesigned to

provide a forum for storeowners and vendors, in which to develop a mutually agreed

upon set of rules and sites where vending will be tolerated. Limits might be placed on

arbitrary vending bans and exploitative practices, like doorway vending.

Licensing Caps

Licenses are often used to establish proficiency, qualification or legitimacy. Since street

vending licenses have been capped since the late 1970s, rather than issued to qualified

applicants as they apply, vending licenses fail to create a meaningful distinction between

those who possess licenses and those who do not. Thousands of vendors including all of

the greenmarket vendors, and most vendors on West Broadway and Flatbush Avenue,

operate without licenses. Because licenses are not available, vendors have sought other

means of conveying legitimacy. Greenmarket vendors have established legitimacy by

creating and publicizing an internal system of regulations. These include mandatory

registration with the city to pay unincorporated business tax, submitting to farm

inspections, which verify that each vendor sells his or her own products, and health

inspections, which verify that their products are safe. To establish their authenticity with

customers, several West Broadway vendors produce artwork on the street as they sell.

Vendors on Flatbush Avenue engage in bargaining, which gives customers a chance to

establish a rapport with vendors and feel comfortable that they are being charged a fair

price. With these alternate means of establishing credibility, vendors can conduct

business with a reasonably trusting public and without a license.

Vendors in New York City have developed what Regina Austin calls a vendor-created

"commercial culture or a set of business practices" to inspire consumer confidence

(Austin 1994, 2129). However, by refusing to issue licenses, the city denies the

legitimacy of vendor businesses. Issuing licenses, without an arbitrary cap, is an

opportunity to accept street vending as a legitimate part of the economy and to affirm the

work of entrepreneurs, especially those in oppressed communities with few options to

enter the formal economy. As Austin has compellingly argued, "we will need to

appreciate the significance of even the seemingly most paltry forms of retailing" to build

viable business in minority communities (Austin 1994, 2131).

The challenge for policy-makers is to instill some meaning into vending licenses in light

of the fact that some vendors have developed alternative means of ensuring consumer

confidence. Issuing licenses based on reasonable qualifications, without regard to

number, and renewing licenses based on documented compliance with tax regulations are

possible approaches to infuse purpose into the vendor licensing requirements.

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13. Appendix 1: Summary of Current Street Vending Regulations

• Location
o Banned streets
 Streets banned to “first amendment vendors”
 Streets banned to “general merchandise vendors”
 Streets banned to “food vendors”
o Clearances
 Min sidewalk width, 12ft
 Min distance from store entrance 20ft
 Min distance from crosswalk, 10ft
 Max distance from curb 18in
 Not on a “grille”
 Must not touch a hydrant lamppost or signpost
 Must not be in a bus stop
 Min distance from sidewalk café, 20ft
 Min distance from bus shelter or phone booth, 5ft
o Table display restrictions
 Max table dimensions 3ft X 8ft
 Table top must be at least 2ft from ground
 Max height of display materials, 5ft.
 Display materials must be at least 12in from ground
 Nothing on top of the table can be larger than the table
 All goods must be stored under table
o General Regulations
 Wear license visibly at all times.
 Display Prices.
 Keep records of the Date, Item. Price, and Sales Tax Collected on
each sale.
 Offer receipts and keep copies.
• Licensing
o Cap (moratorium)-
 General vendor license cap, DCA, “In 1979, City Council created a
cap of 853 on the number of merchandise licenses. There is such a
long waiting list that the Department of Consumer Affairs has not
even taken new names for the list since 1992.”
 Food vendor, no license cap, DOH
 Food vending cart – capped at 3000, DOH, applications for waiting
list accepted only occasionally
o Exemption for “first amendment”
o Preference for veterans

Source: Street Vendor Project


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