Economic Liberty is as American as Baseball and Apple Pie

October 11, 2011

Baseball is America’s pastime. Part of that pastime is buying some “peanuts and Cracker Jack” from a vendor while walking to the game. But that century-old tradition is under attack.

Entrepreneurs Larry Miller and Stanley Hambrick own and operate two well-known vending stands outside of Turner Field in Atlanta—the home of the Atlanta Braves. Their businesses are fixtures in the community. Tens of thousands of baseball fans have bought snacks, souvenirs and Braves merchandise from Larry and Stanley on their way to see a game.

Through their hard work, Larry and Stanley have created jobs for friends and family members, many of whom help out on game days. Vending has enabled Larry and Stanley to send their children to college. And Stanley, who sees his stand as his legacy, hopes to one day hand it down to his youngest son.

Street vendors across the nation create similar benefits and fulfill similar ambitions through this honest enterprise. As part of our National Street Vending Initiative, the Institute for Justice released Streets of Dreams. In it, IJ explains how street vendors create jobs, offer a wide variety of inexpensive goods and services, and help keep their communities safe. Despite these benefits, 45 of the largest 50 U.S. cities have enacted restrictions that stifle these entrepreneurs and make it virtually impossible for them to operate.

Atlanta is one of those cities.

Two years ago, Atlanta awarded one company a monopoly over all vending on public property—the first such ill-advised program of its kind in the nation. As the company builds kiosks in an area, existing vendors must either shut down or rent a kiosk for anywhere from $500 to $1,600 per month. This means that to stay in business, a vendor who was until recently paying only $250 per year for a vending site must now pay up to $19,200 in rent. That adds up to a lot of $10 t-shirts and $20 caps.

This program has succeeded in doing only one thing: putting many Atlantans out of work. The first phase of the program left 16 vendors out in the cold. Those 16 vendors employed dozens more people, many of whom either left Atlanta or went into a different line of work.

Now the monopoly has its sights on Turner Field. The cramped kiosks are ill-suited for the open-air vending that works outside the baseball stadium. And paying thousands of dollars to rent a metal box is a cost these modest businesses cannot afford. If the monopoly succeeds in its effort to get a government-imposed lock on the marketplace, Larry and Stanley’s businesses will be destroyed. As Larry says, “If they put me inside of a kiosk, it would be like putting me in a coffin.”

But Larry and Stanley are fighting back.

To protect their rights and the rights of all street vendors, Larry and Stanley have teamed up with the Institute for Justice to challenge Atlanta’s vending monopoly. The lawsuit argues that Atlanta does not have the authority to hand over all vending to a single company and that the city’s actions violate the Georgia Constitution. A victory here will not only free Atlanta’s vending community, it will make other cities think twice before signing away their citizens’ right to economic liberty.

Rob Frommer is an IJ staff attorney.

Also in this issue

Judicial Engagement Catching on in Courts Across the Nation

“My Streets! My Eats!” Campaign Champions Chicago’s Mobile Food Vendors

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