I want to be a street vendor. What do I do?
Do I need a license or permit? How do I get one?
What about First Amendment vendors?
I want to sell jewelry / custom t-shirts / crafts. May I do so without a license?
Where can I vend?
I want to work at a street fair. Can you help me?
Where can I get a copy of the vending laws?
I am a student writing a paper about vendors. Can you help me?
I am looking for a vendor to work my event. Can you help me?
I would like to place my company logo on vending carts, cups, umbrellas, etc. Can you help?
In October, 2009, we also answered a bunch of questions for New York Times readers. You can read some questions, and responses, here.
We frequently get inquiries from people who dream of quitting their jobs and becoming vendors. We encourage you to join our community, which has a great tradition of bootstrap entrepreneurship. But we recommend you first do a lot of research into what is involved. There is a reason most vendors are recent immigrants with few language skills. Vending is very hard work and you will likely not make much money. For every beautiful day when the streets are teeming with people, there are many days of rain or cold when you will be lucky to break even.
While we are happy to try to help you get started, and you are very welcome to join the project, we cannot hold your hand. We have a small staff and many current vendors who need our time. Our best advice is to come to our meetings and talk with vendors. Like any business, vending takes a serious commitment of time and money if you expect it to be successful.
You can also attend our new class, Street Food Vending 101! Information on the class is available here.
Yes, you need a license. Unless what you are selling is protected by the First Amendment (see below), selling in public space without a license is a crime. There is a good chance that you will be arrested and your merchandise will be confiscated.
While you need a license, you may not be able to get one. For example, if you want to sell merchandise and you are not a US military veteran, you are out of luck. In 1979, City Council created a cap of 853 on the number of merchandise licenses. There is such a long waiting list that the Department of Consumer Affairs has not even taken new names for the list since 1992. We believe that the licensing cap should be lifted, but we need your help to make it happen. Join the project, make a tax-deductible donation, or at least find out who your Council Member is and write them a letter telling them that hard-working people who want to vend legally should be allowed to do so.
If you want to sell food, it is somewhat easier but still difficult. Food vendors need a license for themselves, on which there is no limit. They also need to sell from a pushcart with a Department of Health permit, which are limited at about 3,000 city-wide. The Department of Health holds lotteries every few years to distribute any excess permits, but the average wait is still many years. Many food vendors who do not have their own permits enter into relationships with permit holders to use their permits, for a fee.
Under the First Amendment, people who sell newspapers, magazines, cd’s, books and art on the street may do so without a vending license. However, you still must abide by the city’s many restrictions on where you put your table (“Is My Spot Legal?” pdf), and there are many streets where you cannot vend at all (Street Restrctions pdf). You must also abide by the New York State tax law by getting a tax ID (“certificate of authority”) and by collecting and paying sales taxes on what you sell.
While traditional visual art (paintings, prints, photographs and sculpture) may definitely be sold on the street without a license, the law on other items is murky. Overtly political items like t-shirts and buttons may be sold without a license. For jewelry and crafts, though, it depends on the individual items you are selling and whether by selling them you have an intention to communicate any idea, opinion or belief. The city doesn’t have any process for determining beforehand what is acceptable, so all you can do is risk being arrested and, if you are, argue to the judge at criminal court that your items were protected by the First Amendment. Or you can join the Street Vendor Project, come to meetings, and try to get the law changed.
So long as you abide by the restrictions on the placement of your pushcart or table (“Is My Spot Legal?” pdf), you may vend on any street that has not been restricted by the city. There are different lists of restricted streets for merchandise vendors (link), food vendors (link) and First Amendment vendors.
No, we have nothing to do with street fairs or people who sell at them. Street fairs in NYC (those things that take over the avenues on summer weekends) are run by large corporations (See street fair schedule and check out www.mortandray.com) that rent out the space to people who want to sell there. You still need a city license to sell at street fairs, but it is apparently not difficult to get.
You may get a copy of the vending laws at the NYC Licensing Center at 42 Broadway.
Sure, we help students all the time, and we have a collection of articles and reports about vendors that you are welcome to use. Just call the office or email us your questions. All we ask in return is the right to post your finished paper on the website, so others can benefit from your work. We also ask that you read the web site thoroughly so that we don’t spend time answering questions that you can easily find answers to.
Yes, we frequently link up our network of 1,500 vendors with people who have chances for them to make money (and serve the community) — weddings, block parties, promotional events, etc. Vendors are entrepreneurs, so it will be their choice whether they want to come, but we can provide them the information. Just drop us a line and with as many details as you can and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can with information.
Yes, we have a network of more than 1,500 licensed, legal street vendors all across the city who vend in spots where millions of people pass by every day. Per exposure, our vendors’ carts are one of the least expensive forms of outdoor advertising in NYC. Our vendors are ready to serve your advertising needs, and we are here to coordinate it. Just give us a call or drop us an email for more information.