NEW YORK – Street vendors and representatives of a non-profit organization protested Thursday outside the New York Police Department’s 34th Precinct in Washington Heights calling for an increase in available permits and demanding an end to police ticketing.
In a movement called “Lift the Caps,” organized by the group Street Vendor Project, protesters marched on 183rd Street and Broadway for vendors’ rights. Elise Goldin, senior organizer at the non-profit organization, said the city has put a limit on the number of available permits. Goldin said many of the street vendors present at the protest were put on waiting lists that could last 15 to 20 years. She said there are only 5,000 available permits in the city.
Commanding Officer of the 34th Precinct, Chris Morello, said the department often receives phone complaints about vendors blocking the sidewalks or selling without a permit. Morello said the most crowded areas in the neighborhood include the street outside the 181st Street Station on the corner of St. Nicholas Avenue and the sidewalks outside the 207th Street Station. He said he works with both the Department of Consumer Affairs and the Department of Health to control the overcrowding of street vendors.
One street vendor, Heleadora Vivar, said she sells different kinds of fruits and vegetables on the street without a permit.
If caught selling without a permit, street vendors can be charged a $1,000 fine.
Vivar, who is also on the board of the Vendor Project, said police ticketing greatly diminishes the income of parents trying to make money for their families.
“Imagine a fine of one thousand dollars when that person does not make one thousand dollars in one day of work,” Vivar said in Spanish. “What is that person to do?”
One street vendor, Edito Polanco, said he has tried repeatedly to get a permit through the Department of Consumer Affairs, but he said he has been rejected numerous times.
Officer Morello would not comment about why a vendor like Polanco could not receive a permit. But Morello did say that the police department often sends enforcement officers to the crowded areas in the neighborhood to ticket vendors blocking the sidewalk.
The Department of Consumer Affairs did not immediately respond to comment.
Goldin said some vendors are forced to purchase permits through a black market for $20,000. But she said not all vendors could afford this cost.
Polanco, who sells fruit on the street, said he wants the police to stop ticketing those without permits because he cannot afford the $1,000 fine.
“I just had open heart surgery,” said Polanco, 66, of Washington Heights. “I don’t like to stay home all day, and selling fruit gives me something to live for.”
“Selling fruit makes me happy,” he added.