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The Black (and Grey) Market of Street Vendor Permits

HOST INTRO:  You’ve seen vendors on the streets of NYC.. selling everything from food to books to cell phone covers. But the number of these vendors is strictly limited. In order to sell that kind of general merchandise  –  vendors need a special license and there are only 853 total throughout the entire city. To make things even more complicated the city sets aside certain areas just for military veterans.  Between the limited number of licenses and the vet’s special access – an usual type of business arrangement has evolved – But as Jephie Bernard reports this is a black market with some grey areas.

Bernard 1: Howard Dalton is a disabled vet. He’s been in the vending business, selling everything from tools to burgers for over a decade and a half.  Back In 2006 he got into an argument with another vendor – they were fighting over a spot in front of the Metropolitan Museum. But this fight had an unusual ending. The pair decided to work together.


Some people say rent a vet – call it what you want to call it but it allows me to make a living.

Bernard 2:  That rent-a-vet system that Dalton is talking about –  is an informal one which has sprung up between vendors and vets. Street vendors want access to restricted areas – the ones only vets are allowed to sell in. Veterans say often they’re unable to work on their own because of health issues

So – vendors pay vets under the table.  The only thing vets have to do is hang out nearby in case the cops show up.


He had the cart and I had the license.

Bernard 3: Dalton says he suffers from a heart problem. So as a disabled veteran – he has priority for the yellow tag he wears around his neck. It’s a license issued exclusively to disabled vets. It allows them to vend in all five boroughs and  restricted areas throughout the city.  


So I can pretty much I can come here – I can meet the guys here and I can just make sure that the location is clear

Bernard 4: However these joint ventures can cause big problems for vets who work solo and do the vending all on their own — like Al Peacock.


See that cart right there on the other side of the street that’s Peacock.

SFX: Sound of someone ordering from Al Peacock’s food truck.

Bernard 5: Like Dalton, Peacock is also a disabled vet. But unlike Dalton he works on his own selling hot dogs and hamburgers. He’s a new owner of a food truck. – he’s had it for two weeks.

He says the rent-a-vet system is unfair. Because anyone with cash can gain access to spots he says should be reserved only for vets.


So I’m fighting with people that shouldn’t even be here for a spot for me to work and I’m entitled to be here

Bernard 6 –  But at the same time he says he gets why these partnerships are so popular among vets.


It’s easy money – you can sit on your but all day in your car and make a buck fifty. I mean who can get mad at that.

Bernard 7 : That’s one hundred and fifty dollars a day – the going rate.  Though Peacock says it’s sometimes less.


In the winter time you get paid anywhere from one twenty-five to a hundred closer to a hundred and eighty dollars in a lot of cases — and um it’s crazy. You’re creating your own slavery.

Bernard 8: Peacocks says says no one can actually  live on that…He believes the system exploits veterans — especially those who may be homeless or physically unable to work.


He may be working the cart but he doesn’t own that cart and he’s getting paid crumbs.  

Bernard 9: Elise Goldin is with the Street Vendor Project. It’s a  non-profit that advocates for the rights of street vendors.  She says veterans and vendors working together has become standard practice.  

Goldin 2

So what people choose to do and what veterans choose to do is sort of form a relationship in which a folks who want a business on the street and can’t get a license go into a business with military veteran who does have a license and they collaborate.

Bernard 10: Goldin says vendors turn to vets because of the limited number of licenses. Sometimes they feel like there’s no other way to continue running their businesses

Goldin 1

There are so many people that need jobs and many people who are working on the street to support their family and they’re not able to do it legally risking thousand dollar tickets risking arrest and getting their stuff confiscated.

Bernard 11: Some of the vets who rent themselves out say – they don’t many other options either.  Because remember – these licenses are specifically for disabled vets and it’s not likely that they can do the jobs by themselves.


New York state saying oh if you’re a veteran you can be a vendor on the street that’s great but it’s also a really really hard job that takes a lot.

Bernard 12: Even Peacock, who says the un-official system can exploit vets, he understands why some of them do it.


Because other veterans who have issues through no fault of their own with substance abuse and so forth they looking for that money so they can get their next get high.

Bernard 15: There’s a waiting list for non-vets to get a license of their own. Currently there are over 5000 names on the list but only just over 850 spots. And the list closed in 1993. The Department of Consumer Affairs says it won’t reopen until it’s gone through all the applications. In the meantime, it doesn’t look like these special business relations between vets and vendors are going to go away anytime soon.

Jephie Bernard – Columbia Radio News.   


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