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New Strategic Research Reveals Big Contributions by Small Vending Businesses

Every day, tens of thousands of entrepreneurs make their livings selling hot dogs, pretzels and other foods and goods on America’s streets and sidewalks. But reliable data about vendors and their economic contributions have been hard to come by—until now. This fall, IJ released a new strategic research report, Upwardly Mobile: Street Vending and the American Dream, which reveals the challenges vendors face and the economic contributions they bring to their communities.

IJ Director of Strategic Research Dick Carpenter surveyed licensed vendors in the 50 largest U.S. cities and found that vending is an effective path for entrepreneurship to create jobs: 96 percent of licensed vendors own their own businesses and 39 percent are employers. Vending requires relatively little money and little to no specialized training—just a lot of hard work—making it an ideal fit for bootstrap entrepreneurs.

Upwardly Mobile also examines vendors’ economic impact through a case study in New York City. In 2012 alone, New York City vendors contributed almost $293 million to the city’s economy and paid more than $71 million in local, state and federal taxes. They also supported nearly 18,000 jobs. And that’s despite the fact that the city imposes low, arbitrary caps on vending permits.

Through new data and the stories of vendors, Upwardly Mobile shows how cities like New York that restrict or ban vending are denying themselves economic benefits and blocking vendors’ pursuit of the American Dream. Like our earlier studies, Streets of Dreams and Street Eats, Safe Eats, the new report dispels myths often used to justify protectionist restrictions on the industry. And IJ’s National Street Vending Initiative is already putting the findings to use, working to persuade lawmakers in New York, Los Angeles, Miami and elsewhere to roll back restrictions and let vendors get to work.

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