By Angel Cortes Sanchez
When we buy that taco or that lamb over rice from a food cart, we don’t think much about the vendor preparing our food. The same can be said about the vendors selling clothes, phone cases, flowers, or anything else. Everywhere we walk in Manhattan, we are surrounded by street vendors. According to The Street Vendor Project, there are over 20,000 street vendors throughout the city; however, only 2,900 of them are authorized––the rest are unlicensed and subject to fines and harassment by law enforcement officers.
During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a record 631,000 people lost their jobs in New York City, many of whom resorted to street vending as a means of earning income and surviving. Unfortunately, the limited number of permits meant those new street vendors were largely unlicensed. Further, many of the unlicensed street vendors are undocumented immigrants who are not able to recieve federal aid. Univision 41 interviewed Macrina Navarette, an undocumented immigrant, who lost her job and became one of those unlicensed street vendors. She says (translated from Spanish), “I have lost my job during the pandemic and I need the income to survive. I would rather be doing this earning my living as opposed to robbing people.” Navarette has received multiple fines from the NYPD, each being a thousand dollars. Navarette had this to say about the fines: “How come the police are quick to fine us, but they aren’t quick to prevent robbery and theft.” Another vendor, Manuel Soto, explained, “Whenever I apply for a permit, it’s only reserved for veterans.” Recently, the Street Vendor Project has fought to increase the number of permits and to loosen the restrictions on the application process. On January 26, 2021, the New York City Council announced that it increased the number of permits from 3,000 to 7,000. City Council member Carlos Mancheca said, “The amount of permits have remained the same for over 40 years, it’s time for change.” However, State Senator Jessica Ramos believes, “More has to be done to make the application process easier, people deserve to work.” There is progress being made towards addressing the Street Vendor crisis, but there needs to be more reform with the application process to create an even more prosperous environment for the vendors we encounter every day. □