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The Sidewalk &

the Storefront
the relationship between
street vendors and brick-and-mortar
businesses in New York City

Summary of findings from Street Vending Policy and Partnership

Opportunities in New York City by Kathryn “Kurt” Wheeler










This report summarizes findings from the 2018 study “Street Vending Policy and
Partnership Opportunities in New York City” by Kathryn “Kurt” Wheeler. In addition to the
case studies presented below, the full report includes a literature review, analysis of the
proposed Street Vending Modernization Act, and case studies of vendor regulations in
other US cities. The full document is available at

Street vendors are an historic feature of New York City’s business landscape. In spite of their iconic
status, however, vendors draw a range of grievances, particularly from brick-and-mortar
businesses and business interests. A common complaint is that vendors compete unfairly with
local brick-and-mortar businesses, given their lower startup and operating costs and looser
regulation. Other typical complaints have included vendors contributing to sidewalk congestion,
leaving garbage, and occupying valuable street parking (Bromley, 2006; Quadri, 2016).

These claims have helped justify arduous restrictions and regulations placed on vending in New
York. Rules dictate everything from the proximity allowed between carts or trucks to other
establishments, time restrictions on vending in any one location, table/truck dimensions, and
storage types (Devlin, 2011; “Food on Wheels,” 2013). While most street vendor stakeholders agree
that public health is a valid concern (Bromley, 2000; “Food on Wheels,” 2013), many others see the
complexity and arbitrariness of certain vendor regulations giving license to law enforcement and
business interests to unfairly harass and intimidate vendors without limit (Devlin, 2011; Kettles,
2014). The enforcement of current vendor regulations disproportionately impacts working-class
immigrants, minorities, and veterans, who make up a large portion of the city’s vendors.

Though vendors do prefer to locate on denser commercial streets as they benefit from higher
levels of foot traffic (Bromley, 2006), there is little substantive research demonstrating that they
compete with brick-and-mortar businesses in these areas. On the contrary, existing research
suggests synergistic relationships can exist between traditional retailers and vendors. A previous
study of New York City indicated that vendors can help to diversify restaurant and retail offerings
and increase visitorship to the district (Benson, 2006). An assessment conducted by Economic
Roundtable in Los Angeles suggests that brick-and-mortar retail and restaurants located in close
proximity to street vendors were more likely to grow their businesses between 2007 and 2011, as
compared to those farther from vendors (Yen Lieu et al, 2015).

This study explores what conditions lead to positive, symbiotic relationships between storefront
businesses and nearby vendors based on research from four neighborhoods—the Upper East
Side, Jackson Heights, Nolita, and Sunset Park. Using this evidence, recommendations were then
developed for fostering stronger partnerships between vendor stakeholders at the local level.

The Sidewalk & the Storefront: Introduction 1



Fig 1. Map of case example retail corridors by community district. Source: Borough Boundaries
and CD Boundaries, DCP, 2014.

2 The Sidewalk & the Storefront: Methodology

Four retail corridors were selected for examination based on their varying geographic
locations and economic/demographic profiles. This included 1) density of vendors
2) presence of a district managing entity, such as a BID, 3) density of storefront businesses
and 4) assessed land value.

Each district was studied through observation of participants and pedestrians, photography,
and unstructured interviews with vendors, storeowners, and workers. Approximately three
vendors and three storefront workers/owners were interviewed in each of the four districts.

Interview questions with workers and business owners included:

• overall attitudes toward the presence of nearby vendors;
• whether businesses have established channels of communication with
vendors and/or negotiated conditions under which the vendor(s) operate(s);
• whether they have ever intentionally tried attracting a certain type of vendor to
operate nearby;
• and whether they have thoughts on the City’s vending regulations.

For vendors, questions asked included:

• why they have chosen to locate in the particular location;
• whether they have positive relationships with nearby shop owners and/or have ever
negotiated conditions with store-front owners about their vending practices;
• the most common type of violation they have received (e.g. vending location versus
proper storage);
• and whether they have ever been harassed by business entities in the neighborhood.

Additional research on each area was conducted through a review of relevant media.

Fig 2. New York City Case Example Conditions Matrix.

The Sidewalk & the Storefront: Methodology 3


5th Avenue is the primary commercial corridor of Sunset Park, an ethnically diverse working-class
neighborhood in South Brooklyn with large Asian and Hispanic/Latino populations and the city’s
largest Chinatown. The area has an Area Median Income that is about $10,000 less than the city-
wide average (U. S. Census Bureau, 2011-2015 ACS). The neighborhood is currently undergoing
major change – such as the opening of Bush Terminal Piers Park and Industry City in 2014 – which
is leading to demographic shifts and may be linked to an increase in police violence, including
one documented instance against a vendor (Trujillo, 2015).

Vendors avoid conflict with local storefront businesses and tend to seek out locations
that minimize their proximity to brick-and-mortar businesses, opting to sell in front of
vacant buildings or larger chain stores. Most vendors were located in front of businesses with
low foot traffic (e.g., banks, services) or the businesses of non-competitors. Vendors, at times,
adjust their product offerings to avoid conflicts with local brick-and-mortar businesses. Some
vendors choose to change locations in order to minimize conflicts with local businesses. 

Establishing local relationships matters for vendors.
The general vendor selling leather
accessories at the corner of 54th Street and 5th Ave said he is good friends with the workers at
the Payless Shoe Source he sells in front of, and they often let him use the bathroom and duck
inside when the weather gets bad. He also said that all the local police know him, so he has not
had trouble with violations lately, although he used to have more problems when he was starting
out. Christian, a vendor who moves from neighborhood to neighborhood selling his goods, said
he gets hassled by police frequently in all areas, and frequently gets tickets for spatial violations.

The local brick-and-mortar businesses do not see vendors as a threat.

Despite the presence of a food vendor only a few doors down, the worker at the 5th Avenue
Grocery said that she did not see
any problems with vendors. The worker seemed to find the
question odd, suggesting she had never even considered it before. The employee at Taco
California said that there were never any food vendors set up right in front of the restaurant, and
that vendors were simply “a part of the neighborhood. “

Vendors are aware of local market conditions and help meet customer demands. 

A vendor selling leather accessories said he used to live in the neighborhood and moved away,
but he still comes back to vend in Sunset Park because there is more demand for his products. He
said this is probably because there are lots of immigrants in the neighborhood who are
accustomed to buying off the street. He has not been as successful selling his products in other

4 The Sidewalk & the Storefront: Sunset Park

Fig 3 (left). Contextual map of Sunset Park. Fig 4 (right). Map of streets studied/observed in Sunset Park. Source: Esri,
DeLorne, USGS, Intermap, © OpenStreetMap contributors, and the GIS User Community.

Fig 5. Joe, a vendor on 53rd and

5th Avenue, sells socks,
sunglasses, watches, perfume,
and other goods in front of a
RiteAid and a bank. He and his
partner have used this location
for several years and have a good
relationship with the adjacent
shops. They chat frequently with
the staff and give them a
heads-up if they ever see any
activity that looks like shoplifting
or a potential robbery.

Fig 6. A young
watermelon vendor, located
mid-block between 45th
and 46th Streets. She said
that she and her boyfriend
have only been in business
about three months and
they have not had any
problems with local brick-
and-mortar businesses or
local police so far.

The Sidewalk & the Storefront: Sunset Park 5

Roosevelt Avenue is the main commercial corridor of the Jackson Heights and Corona
neighborhoods, in one of the most diverse and multicultural neighborhoods in the country
(Ueda, 2017). The Jackson Heights and Corona neighborhoods are almost 60 percent Hispanic/
Latino and about 25 percent Asian, with an Area Median Income about $7,000 less than that of
New York City (U. S. Census Bureau, 2011-2015 ACS). An increase in newcomers to the area has
led to rising rents over the last ten years or so, leaving long-time residents feeling anxious about
displacement and other impacts of gentrification (Gill, 2011). This contributed to community
opposition to an expansion of the Jackson Heights Business Improvement District (BID)
boundaries in 2015.

Vendors avoid selling in front of storefront businesses that sell like products, and usually
opt to sell in front of non-active businesses or larger chain stores. There was a food vendor
in front of the Gap Factory Store, a clothing vendor in front of a vacant boutique, a peanut
vendor in front of an optometrist, and multiple vendors in front of the Capital One and Chase
banks. There was not one instance of a food vendor selling in front of a cafe or restaurant, or a
general vendor selling in front of a retail store selling like products.

A number of brick-and-mortar businesses have adapted their storefronts or store layouts

to operate more like vending stands. Several bodegas and small groceries along Roosevelt
Avenue and 82nd have small store extensions with customer walk-up windows to sell juices and
food to passersby. Similarly, several of the brick-and-mortar businesses, including Brands and Co,
had layouts similar to a market, with different counters manned by different salespeople offering
different products (e.g. jewelry, phone cases, etc.). 

Brick-and-mortar businesses do not see vendors as competitors and some even have a
symbiotic relationship with nearby vendors, for example:
• A manager/owner named Tony at Brands and Co works at the phone case and repair counter
in the store and said that he has no problem with local vendors even though they sell many
of the same products. Tony said he has positive relationships with nearby vendors, especially
the phone case vendor across the street in front of the Duane Reade. The phone case vendor
sends customers over to the shop when they are looking for phone repairs and the Brands
and Co manager sends people to his stand when they are looking for a cheaper price point. 

• The Lens Lab Express employee said she thinks the vendors on the street have a positive
impact on business: “maybe pedestrians stop to buy peanuts and then decide to come inside
the store.”
• There is a busy grilled corn vendor located in front of the 82nd Newsstand on the
Southwest corner of 82nd and Roosevelt. Despite the sidewalk crowding caused by the
popular vendor and the smoke the cart emits, the bodega employee said he did not believe it
had any negative impact on his business. 

6 The Sidewalk & the Storefront: Jackson Heights/Corona

Fig 7 (left). Contextual map of Jackson Heights/Corona Heights. Fig 8 (right). Map of streets studied in Jackson Heights/
Corona. Source: Esri, DeLorne, USGS, Intermap, © OpenStreetMap contributors, and the GIS User Community.

Fig 9. Tariq, manager of the 82nd

Newsstand, has not had any issues
with the four to five food vendors
who sell in front of his store. He
said that he thinks everyone has
the right to make a living. He has
negotiated with the vendors not to
sell any water or sodas, and as long
as they do not sell beverages, the
vendors have no negative impact
on his business.

Fig 10. Calvin, a phone case vendor

located at the NW corner of 82nd
and Roosevelt, has a positive
relationship with the phone case
and repair shop across the street.
He said they do not compete for
customers. Rather, they refer
customers to one another when
their customers are looking for a
different price point or they do not
have what they are looking for.

The Sidewalk & the Storefront: Jackson Heights/Corona 7


Manhattan’s Upper East Side has been ranked as one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the
country and is known for being one of the most exclusive in the city (Williams, 2014). Today, the
Upper East Side is a predominantly White, upper middle-class neighborhood with an Area
Median Income about double that of New York City (U. S. Census Bureau, 2011-2015 ACS). The
opening of the Second Avenue subway in January 2017 has led to an increase in foot traffic along
the avenue and an increase in business of 20 to 40 percent (Ralph, 2017). The newly freed-up
sidewalk space has also led to an increase in street vendors.

Having well-established local ties makes a difference for vendors. A fruit and vegetable
vendor said he doesn’t have any issues with brick-and-mortar businesses because he’s been
selling in the area for so long that everybody knows him. During the interview, several of his
regulars (to whom he refers to as “friend-customers”) chatted with him and asked him when he
was closing up for the winter to head to Bangladesh. Yusuf, a juice vendor, said he gets most of his
business from regulars. During the interview, one of his regular customers came to the cart and
said she only buys juice from Yusef, usually on her way to or from work.

Vendors avoid locating near brick-and-mortar businesses and opt to sell in front of
vacant buildings or banks when possible.
All vendors observed along the fifteen blocks were
located in front of non-active businesses and seemed to avoid selling in front of businesses
selling similar products. Based on observations, vendors seemed to be capitalizing on the
newly-opened Second Avenue subway by choosing to congregate near the subway entrances.

The brick-and-mortar restaurants interviewed did not view vendors as a threat to their
• The Asian 83 employee said she rarely, if ever, notices vendors and does not think they have
an impact on business. The Al Forno employee said that people are looking for different
experiences when they decide to buy from a vendor instead of coming into the restaurant.
• Yusuf, the juice vendor, said he never gets hassled by the juice store that is located
directly across the street from his cart. However, he said that if a vendor is on the same block
as another vendor selling the same product, there might be some tension.

8 The Sidewalk & the Storefront: Upper East Side

Fig 11 (left). Contextual map of the Upper East Side. Fig 12 (right). Map of streets studied/observed in Upper East
Side. Source: Esri, DeLorne, USGS, Intermap, © OpenStreetMap contributors, and the GIS User Community.

Fig 13. Salahaldin, an immigrant

from Baghdad, works his brother’s
smoothie cart at 83rd and 2nd Ave
(the same cart Yusuf works at). The
owner of L’Mosh Aliz Hair Salon,
which is right across the street, gets
a smoothie from him every morning.
Salahaldin gives him a discount and
he has been offered discounted
haircuts in return. He has not taken
him up yet on the offer but he plans
to do so.

Fig 14. Vendors near the newly

opened subway entrance at 76th St
and Second Ave.

The Sidewalk & the Storefront: Upper East Side 9

The Nolita Market is located in front of the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral on Prince Street in
Lower Manhattan, in a trendy upper-class neighborhood that is majority White with an AMI more
than double that of the city. Unlike the other case study locations, Nolita Market is a formal out-
door market coordinated and managed by a market manager, although the market has features
that make it more like a regular densely populated vendor street. The market is open Fridays and
Saturdays, March through December. It is managed by one of the jewelry vendors, who has been
vending in the area for the last twenty years (personal communication, September 22, 2017).
Since the market is categorized as a “street fair,” vendors are only required to hold temporary
permits. Vendors operate on a sidewalk adjacent to high-end retailers in a dense retail corridor.

Brick-and-mortar businesses do not see vendors as competitors and some even have a
symbiotic relationship with nearby vendors. The manager of a designer clothing and jewelry
boutique said she thinks there is a complementary relationship between the vendors and local
shops, since they have different prices and goods. Sometimes she sends customers over to the
vendor market when she does not have what they are looking for. She does not sell pearl
necklaces, for example. Adam, a vendor and employee of K2 pearls, said all the nearby shops are
very friendly and he never has problems finding somewhere to use the bathroom or take a break.

The organizational structure of the market excludes certain vendor types and ensures
curation of higher-end artisan products that appeal to a more middle-class customer
Ruben, the market manager, said there is more demand for vending spots than are
available (he has about 100 applications from prospective vendors.) He carefully vets all the sell-
ers to make sure the products are high-quality and handmade. There is a $70 per day fee to sell
at the market and vendors must make a ten-month commitment. He also recruits vendors when
he sees designers or artists he likes. For example, Ruben saw the work of the leather accessories
vendor who sells at a nearby art studio. He liked his work and invited him to join the market.

There is very little regular interaction between vendors and other nearby businesses.
Although the businesses interviewed seemed to have a generally favorable opinion of the NoLita
Market vendors, none said they had any relationships or regular contact with the vendors.
The employee at John Fluevog Shoes, which is located directly across the street from the vendors,
said he likes seeing the vendors out on the weekends, but has never talked with any of them and
has never perused their products himself.

Selling at the market is not the primary source of income for most of these vendors.
Most sell their products elsewhere, either at brick-and-mortar shops or online, in addi-
tion to vending on the weekends. The owner of Karu Accessories said the market is a great
location to sell her products, but she also does a lot of business on the website Etsy. Linda, the
scarf and accessory vendor, is retired and vends to make a little extra money and to stay active.
She also works at the annual San Gennaro Festival on Mulberry Street. She likes that she only
needs a temporary street fair permit to sell.

10 The Sidewalk & the Storefront: Nolita Market

Fig 15 (left). Contextual map of Nolita. Fig 16 (right). Map of streets studied/observed in Nolita. Source: Esri, DeLorne,
USGS, Intermap, © OpenStreetMap contributors, and the GIS User Community.

Fig 17. The manager of John

Fluevog shoes, Paul, sees no
problem with the vendors at the
Nolita Market (located directly
across the street from his shop).
He said he even sees them as an
asset to the neighborhood. When
asked whether he might feel
differently if any of the vendors
sold shoes, he said there are
several other shoe stores nearby
and he has no isues with them

Fig 18. Nolita Market

vendors on the north side
of Prince Street.

The Sidewalk & the Storefront: Nolita Market 11


Findings from New York City cases suggest that certain conditions may be common to
districts with high densities of vendors city-wide:

• Contrary to conventional wisdom, brick-and-mortar store owners and workers do not

generally see vendors as competitors or a threat to their businesses.
• Regular communication between vendors and brick-and-mortar business owners and
employees is uncommon, but very fruitful where it exists.
• Vendors avoid selling in front of businesses that sell like products and opt to sell in front of
businesses with low foot traffic or non-competitors, such as banks or larger chain stores, when
• Having strong local ties to the neighborhood makes a difference for vendors.

Nevertheless, some characteristics appear unique to each district, suggesting that

certain distinctive neighborhood traits or conditions have an effect on the local vending
landscape. For instance:

• Street vending seems like a natural activity in Jackson Heights and Sunset Park, as
suggested by the vendor who chooses to return to Sunset Park to vend because of the strong
customer-base, and the adapted storefronts that operate more like vending stands in Jackson
Heights. This is likely due in part to the large immigrant populations of these neighborhoods,
which may create greater demand for vendors and a greater acceptance of street vending as
an economic stepping stone.
• On the Upper East Side, the recent opening of the Second Avenue subway has created, at
least temporarily, the peculiar circumstance of new subway entrances at locations that had
been up until recently either less active street corners or construction sites. There seems
to be steep competition between vendors jockeying for the sidewalk real estate near the
subway entrances and away from storefront business competitors. Because food vendors
often sell the same or like products and their prices tend to be comparable, vendors present
real competition for one another. Two of the three vendors interviewed had strong rapports
with their customers, which may be one of the ways in which vendors distinguish themselves
from their competition. This implies that there is local demand for vendors, and that other
vendors along Second Avenue may also rely heavily on return business from both residents
and workers.
• Although the vendors at the Nolita Market were actually more likely to be in competition with
the local brick-and-mortar boutiques (both in terms of their products and prices) than ven-
dors in the other districts studied, the local shops interviewed did not view them as compet-
itors. It seems that there may be an awareness that these vendors contribute to the appeal of
the district, which may alleviate concerns relating to the “unfair competition.” A more cynical
interpretation might be that these vendors selling higher-end artisan products are perceived
as “fitting in” with the trendy neighborhood identity, as opposed to vendors selling cheaper,
lower quality products, so local businesses and business interests are not as motivated to use
the “unfair competition” argument to get these vendors to relocate.

12 The Sidewalk & the Storefront: Summary of Findings

Despite the commonly held belief that street vendors are bad for brick-and-mortar businesses,
the case examples and precedents explored in this study show that there is not an inherently
antagonistic relationship between these types of enterprises. In fact, there are instances in which
vendors and storefront businesses exist symbiotically – the potential for this type of dynamic
need only be acknowledged and cultivated.

Based on the findings presented above, as well as a review of cases in other cities and proposed
legislation in New York, this study provides the following recommendations:

For the City:

• Implement a diverse and balanced Street Vendor Advisory Board, with representation from
vendors and business owners, with the primary task of establishing an Enforcement Unit.
• Improve resources and outreach programs for vendors and local businesses, so that policies
and practices are clearly communicated.
• Eliminate vendor permit caps as soon as an appropriate enforcement structure is established.

For BIDs:
• Include a vendor representative on the board to get their input on BID initiatives and improve
neighborhood relations.
• Include issues pertaining to vending on the agenda at BID meetings.
• Talk to vendors and think about ways their products can complement the retail and product
mix of the district.

For vendor advocacy groups:

• Begin a campaign for businesses to publicly show their support for street vendors.
• Ask to attend BID meetings around the city to learn about local projects/initiatives and foster
awareness of vending issues among local brick-and-mortar businesses.

For vendors:
• Become a neighborhood ambassador for local storefront businesses to show support for
the neighborhood business community and improve relationships between vendors and
• Join a vendor advocacy group. Stay engaged with policy developments and strengthen
vendor representation.

As retail environments continue to evolve in response to changing consumer demands (e.g. the
rise of online retail), informal business types, such as street vending, will serve as an ever-valuable
means for testing out new paradigms. The City’s Street Vending Modernization Act signals New
York City’s readiness for change, and regardless of whether this particular legislation is passed,
the City must continue working towards policy reform with the firm understanding that vendors
benefit New York City and its economy.

The Sidewalk & the Storefront: Conclusion & Recommendations 13

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