Streets of Dreams

Street vending is, and always has been, a part of the American economy and a fixture of urban life. Thanks to low start-up costs, the trade has offered countless entrepreneurs—particularly immigrants and others with little income or capital—opportunities for self-sufficiency and upward mobility. At the same time, vendors enrich their communities by providing access to a wide variety of often low-cost goods and by helping to keep streets safe and vibrant.

With the booming popularity of food trucks selling creative, cutting-edge cuisines, as well as a sagging economy, interest in street selling is perhaps greater than ever. Nonetheless, complicated webs of regulations in cities nationwide tie up would-be vendors, making it needlessly difficult or even impossible to set up shop in many cities.

This report examines five common types of vending regulations in the 50 largest U.S. cities. All but five major cities have at least one of these types of regulations, while 31 have two or more:

– Eleven of these cities ban vending on public property for some or all goods, limiting the places where vendors can sell and forcing them to partner with private property owners to operate—or to vend anyway and face fines or worse.

– In 33 large cities, entire areas are off-limits to vendors, often including potentially lucrative areas such as downtown commercial districts or streets around sporting venues.

– Twenty major cities ban vendors from setting up near brick-and-mortar businesses selling the same or similar goods.

– Five of the 50 largest cities prevent mobile vendors from stopping and parking unless flagged by a customer, making it difficult for vendors to establish regular stops or easily connect with buyers.

– In 19 large cities, mobile vendors may stay in one spot for only small amounts of time, forcing vendors to spend much of their time moving instead of selling.

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