Why Brick-and-Mortar Businesses Hate Street Vendors

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Yesterday, Eater had an interesting post about the Wafels and Dinges truck's problems with 375 Hudson Street, the building situated near where the waffle vendor parks. The building's management apparently called the cops on them. Quoth Eater:

A building insider told the truck's staff that there had been a concern their presence made the area "look unprofessional". (A tipster heard them say they were "bringing down the class quotient of the neighborhood").

Although the Wafels and Dinges truck is a good deal more upscale than your average street vendor, they're experiencing the same bias that street vendors have grappled with for a century. Specifically, that vendors are dirty, clog the streets, and make the neighborhood seem poor. (A ridiculous argument anywhere, but particularly stupid in the heart of the West Village.)

For my column this week, I followed a hot dog vendor who is struggling to make a living. While reporting the story, I tried to figure out why shops work against vendors so often, even though they're rarely direct competitors. From the article:

Ali Issan, the staff organizer at the Street Vendor Project, says that many business improvement districts feel that vendors give a more downscale feel to a neighborhood. And vendors have always been unfairly stereotyped as dirty or degenerate, a sentiment that has more to do with prejudice against immigrants than reality.

Now that there has been such an influx of upscale food trucks--businesses that aren't launched out of a desperation to make a living, but by choice--it will be interesting to see if the business districts get on the bus, so to speak, and if the city will pass the bill currently in the City Council to increase vending permits from 3,100 to 25,000. If the new, well-funded, much-written-about "foodie" trucks will join forces with the thousands of other street vendors who have been systematically disenfranchised, maybe we'll see some changes soon.


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