Hialeah’s Annual Valentine’s Day Crackdown on Street Vendors Starts Today

Institute for Justice · February 13, 2013

Hialeah, Fla.—It would not be Valentine’s Day in Hialeah without the City cracking down on street vendors trying to earn a living by selling flowers and chocolates.  Hialeah’s annual tradition of ratcheting up enforcement of its anti-vending laws on Valentine’s Day has already started hurting the business of some vendors.  Hialeah’s stepped-up enforcement means that February 14 will not be a happy one for street vendors, their many customers and business owners who welcome vendors onto their property.

Police are already arbitrarily and incorrectly enforcing the new law:  One property owner has already been threatened with fines if he allows vendors to sell on his property, even though that is allowed under the new vending law.

The law bans vendors from doing the two things that are essential to selling flowers: effectively displaying their merchandise and staying in one place.  If they cannot stay put and display merchandise, vendors cannot provide a needed service to customers, and therefore, can’t run a viable business. The only purpose the law serves is to protect a minority of politically connected brick-and-mortar businesses from competition.

Last month, Hialeah changed its vending laws in response to a lawsuit brought by the Institute for Justice and a group of vendors.  Although the City removed the requirement that street vendors stay 300 feet away from brick-and-mortar businesses selling the same kinds of merchandise, it actually expanded existing restrictions that make it impossible for vendors to operate their businesses.

The new laws prohibit vendors from staying put in one location to sell their wares.  That means that customers will not be able to find their otherwise-reliable flower vendors this Valentine’s Day.  What is worse is that nobody knows how far the vendors must move to comply with this vague and ill-defined law.  When questioned, officials at a recent city council meeting could not give a consistent answer as to how far vendors must move, so vendors do not know if they need to move three feet or 3,000 feet to be considered at a “different location.”

Additionally, the new law prohibits vendors from displaying their merchandise.  This means that customers will not be able to see from their cars where vendors are this Valentine’s Day.  The law also says that vendors who do not sell from a vehicle can only sell as much merchandise as they can carry in their arms.  For customers, this means that vendors will not be able to provide enough merchandise this Valentine’s Day.  For vendors, it means that those most in need of a successful business—vendors who cannot afford a car—are the most hurt by the new provisions

“City officials talk about how much they support street vendors, but their actions tell a much different story.  In fact, the laws they’ve beefed up are making it impossible for these vendors to earn an honest living,” said Claudia Murray, an attorney at the Institute for Justice’s Florida Chapter.  “It’s disingenuous—and unconstitutional—to say you’re supporting someone while you’re making it impossible to do the job you’ve given them a license to do.  If vendors can’t stay in one place and can’t display their merchandise, then they can’t operate a business to support themselves and their families.”

Last year, Hialeah cracked down on vendors on the days leading up to Valentine’s Day, driving vendors out at the most important time all year for some vendors.  In a recent letter to vendors, Hialeah warned that they need to comply with the new law as written.  Flower vendors, the ones who are most affected by this yearly Valentine’s Day enforcement, have been the most vocally opposed to the new laws.