$20,000 for a Permit? New York May Finally Offer Vendors Some Relief

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Ahmed Ebrahim was born into the family business, selling hot dogs, knishes and pretzels from a cart near Rockefeller Center. He and his brother and business partner, Mahmoud, inherited the work ethic of their mother, Magda, who started as a street vendor more than 30 years ago after immigrating from Egypt. They also inherited a burden: paying $20,000 every two years for a vending permit.

The city-issued permit usually costs $200, but because of a cap on permits set in the 1980s, many street vendors have no choice but to pay tens of thousands of dollars on the black market to obtain one. And their struggles have only worsened during the pandemic.

“Having the weight of $20,000 on my shoulders just to work is tough right now,” said Mr. Ebrahim, 27, who has seen his sales plummet by 75 percent since reopening over Christmas. “It’s a ghost town out there. I don’t know how much longer I can continue.”

On Thursday, the City Council passed legislation, by a vote of 34 to 13, to lift the cap. The bill enables the city to issue 400 new permits annually for the next 10 years, an attempt to eliminate the underground trade. It also establishes a new office of enforcement, which will coordinate enforcement done by various city agencies — including health and sanitation.

Last month, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the Police Department would no longer oversee enforcement of street vendors.

Mr. de Blasio expressed support for the Council bill before the vote and is expected to sign it into law.

Supporters of the bill said adding more permits will help vendors, who are mostly immigrants, get back into the formal economy after suffering economic and personal devastation during the pandemic.

“Street vendors are small businesses that are part of the New York economy, too,” said Councilwoman Margaret Chin, the bill’s lead sponsor. “They’re just trying to make a living to support themselves and their families.”


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