Street Vendor Entrepreneurs Pursue the American Dream

(p. D1) Running a street food cart is backbreaking work: schlepping around a heavy cart, then standing behind it for hours on end. Quitting the job would seem to be a gift to aching feet.

It hasn’t turned out that way for Mohamed Attia, who left his smoothie and halal-chicken-over-rice carts last year to become the new director of the Street Vendor Project. The group lobbies for the 20,000 or so vendors, most of them immigrants, who sell food, jewelry, clothing and just about everything else in New York City.

. . .

He’ll traverse the city for news conferences, protests or nearly any opportunity to talk about the issues that vendors face. One recent evening, he stood outside a Brooklyn restaurant for two hours in the bitter cold, telling strangers about the vendor — Elsa Morochoduchi, now famous as “the churro lady” — who was handcuffed and detained for selling her fried dough inside a Brooklyn subway station in November [2019].

. . .

(p. D5) Street carts are city fixtures and a source for a fast meal, but that’s just part of their role, he said. He believes in street vending as both an honorable profession and a human right — the right to work, to create one’s own extra-small business.

Ms. Morochoduchi had been stopped nearly a dozen times for illegally selling her pastries in the subway station, Mr. Attia said, yet she always goes back. “What’s that show you?” he said. “It shows you how important it is to her to make that money, to go there and to sell them.”

“Vendors do this because they need a job. It gives them the economic mobility to work, to save money, to start the American dream.”

. . .

This year [2020] the Street Vendor Project is pushing for new legislation from both the City Council and the State Legislature, where Ms. Ramos has just introduced a bill that could make New York the second state after California to eliminate a cap on the number of street vendors and clear any past records of citations or misdemeanors related to selling.

The measure would strike down city laws that limit the number of street food vending permits to about 5,000; the caps have led to decade-long waiting lists and an underground market where a two-year permit (officially issued by the city for $200) can sell for $25,000 or more.

The primary obstacle to changing laws is changing most people’s perception of street vendors, Mr. Attia said. “They don’t see them as entrepreneurs. They don’t see them as legitimate small businesses, and that’s something that we struggle with.”

For the full story, see:

Rachel Wharton. “From Vendor to Defender.” The New York Times (Wednesday, February 5, 2020): D1 & D5.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed years, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 3, 2020, and has the title “A Food Cart Worker’s Biggest Job: Defending Vendor Rights.”)

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