Pratt Institute graduate student Kurt Wheeler presented her findings last Thursday at Roosevelt Avenue and Junction Boulevard in Jackson Heights, which was one of the four neighborhoods where she focused her study.
“There is a public narrative that street vendors unfairly compete with brick-and-mortar businesses,” she said. “But my findings suggest the vendors and brick-and-mortar businesses do not share an inherently antagonistic or competitive relationship.”
Wheeler found that not only do these businesses generally benefit each other, but vendors actively seek to avoid selling in front of shops that sell similar products. Instead, vendors tend to sell in front of businesses with low foot traffic, such as banks or larger chain stores.
In some instances, vendors and the owners of shops actually work together and share customers. One phone case vendor on 82nd Street and Roosevelt Avenue named Calvin even refers customers to a repair shop across the street when customers are looking for different price points, according to the report.
The report focuses on four commercial corridors of varied demographics and median incomes in Sunset Park, Jackson Heights and Corona, the Upper East Side and Nolita.
Over six months, Wheeler interviewed both vendors and the owners of brick-and-mortar businesses.
One vendor who has a positive relationship with a nearby store is Laura Matute, who has been selling ice cream and espumilla, an Ecuadorian sweet, for 25 years. Last Thursday, Matute shared in Spanish that she shares a cordial friendship with the owners of Seba Seba.
“They allow her to use the restroom when she needs to,” said State Senator Jessica Ramos, who translated for Matute. “They’ve been friends for a very long time.”
Ramos touted the report as further proof that vendors are not only integral to the local economy, but that they even help bring more business to brick-and-mortar stores.
The state senator is backing legislation proposed in the City Council to lift a cap that was first imposed on food vending permits in 1983.
“We want to make sure we are enabling the entrepreneurial spirit of our immigrants and neighbors as much as possible,” she said.
Ramos also announced last week that after speaking with MTA Chairman Pat Foye, the MTA has agreed to implement a pilot program in her district to allow vendors to use vacant retail space owned by the agency. One such location will be at the 74th Street and Roosevelt Avenue station.
Mohamed Attia, co-director of the Street Vendor Project, said that while street vendors are the “ultimate version” of the small business, they do not get enough support from government agencies.
Instead, Attia said, they get more enforcement and harassment.
“I hope the city government will consider and read this report,” he said.
The City Council will hear the bill on Thursday. Attia said he feels there is a “really good chance” the legislative body will pass it this time.
“We have a lot of support in the City Council,” he said. “We hope that all of the council members and the mayor agree on this.”
Ramos added that city officials should understand that street vendors want to be permitted.
“What we need is for the city to expand permitting for street vendors so that they can do their vending without any harassment from police officers or other agencies,” Ramos said.