New York City Vendors Rely on Black Market to Work

Few things say “New York City” like a hot dog cart.  But, it turns out that many of the people who hold vending permits for those carts aren’t in the Big Apple or even America. According to a recent investigation by Crain’s New York Business, 70 to 80 percent of vending permits in the city are being used by someone other than the permit holder. An industry which historically allowed immigrants to establish themselves in America is now forcing them to pay tens of thousands of dollars for a piece of paper simply because the city won’t allow more permits.

One vendor suffering under this regime is Zamir. He works nine hours a day, starting at 6 a.m. serving coffee and egg-and-cheese sandwiches to hungry customers out of a food cart. He only takes home as much as $500 in a six-day work week. He told Crain’s that he served as a translator for troops in Afghanistan and was awarded a visa after being wounded in the war.

As Crain’s noted, “A generation ago, after a few years of hard work and saving, Zamir could have become his own boss. Sidewalk vending was long an option for immigrants eager to improve their lives.” But, unfortunately, that is no longer the case.

Vendors like Zamir are forced to rent permits on the black market.  That is because for decades New York City has capped the number of permits available to vendors.  With only 3,000 citywide permits available for mobile food carts and trucks, the permits have become more valuable than the carts. Rental prices for permits have skyrocketed to as much as $20,000 just for a simple hot dog cart, and $30,000 for a food truck. This system makes it difficult if not impossible for Zamir and other cart vendors to get ahead.

Even highly successful food trucks are buckling under the weight of this system. Last year, both Cinnamon Snail and Mexican Blvd., two highly rated NYC food trucks, were forced to shut down because of the permit situation.

Despite the current framework, vendors make significant contributions to the city’s economy. The Institute for Justice (IJ) report, Upwardly Mobile, found that in New York City, vendors supported nearly 18,000 jobs, contributed over $190 million in wages and paid $71.2 million in local, state and federal taxes.

Vendors have suffered long enough under this broken system. The Street Vendor Project and IJ are working together to defend vendors’ economic liberty. Ultimately, the city should abolish a limit on vending permits, or, at the very least, it should increase the number of permits allowed.

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