While New York authorities had eased up enforcement of strict limits on street vending while the city was shut down, allowing thousands of unlicensed vendors to eke out a living selling whatever they can, recent complaints have prompted inspectors to come out in force, accompanied by police officers, handing out hefty fines and telling people to pack up, reports the New York Times. The number of general-vending licenses is currently capped at 853 and the number of citywide food vendor permits at 2,900 — but unofficial estimates place the number of people selling merchandise or food on the city’s streets at more than 10,000, according to the Street Vendor Project, an advocacy group that is part of the Urban Justice Center. The majority are immigrants and people of color, veterans and the disabled.
Complaints from business owners, Business Improvement Districts, elected officials and others, who point to street congestion, noise and the unfair competition the vendors pose to brick-and-mortar businesses and to licensed vendors, have prompted the crackdown. New vendors, one of whom was hit with more than $2,000 in fines for violations, say they understand the city has an obligation to maintain order, but they have nowhere else to turn. It remains unclear whether ramped-up enforcement will work. Carina Kaufman-Gutierrez, deputy director of the Street Vendor Project, said that while the city’s decision to turn over enforcement to a civilian agency had represented a “huge step” toward decriminalizing vendors, who in the past had their goods confiscated by the police, and were even arrested, the recent crackdown was a missed opportunity to fuel the city’s economic recovery from the ground up.