Moderated by Rick Badie
Atlanta has swept its sidewalks of street vendors, a removal not applauded by all. Today, a veteran street vendor calls the crackdown a hindrance to self-reliance and entrepreneurship. Meanwhile, a business executive who supports the crackdown says that too often, vendors attract unsavory activity.
Respect street vendors
By Larry Miller
I have sold shirts, hats, jerseys and snacks to excited, loyal Braves fans for more than 20 years. Thanks to street vending, I own my own business, have created jobs, and have bought a home in which I’ve raised my children and grandchildren. The city must not want that. It has made operating my business a crime.
Last month, Mayor Kasim Reed ordered Atlanta police to shut down street vendors, threatening us with fines and even jail time for doing what we’ve done for years. Police even arrested a vendor over the Final Four weekend for selling hot dogs to hungry tourists. Rather than let vendors serve the thousands of commuters who travel into Atlanta each day, or the almost 2.5 million baseball fans who will visit Turner Field this season, the city now threatens to destroy the self-made jobs that we rely on.
This isn’t the first time Atlanta officials have tried to wipe us out. In 2009, the city handed over street vending to one out-of-state company. We vendors were given a “choice”: Shut down altogether, or rent tiny kiosks for up to $20,000 a year and sell only what the company wanted us to sell. About 16 independent businesses closed forever, costing dozens of people their jobs.
To defend my right to economic liberty, I teamed up with the Institute for Justice to sue the city. In December, we won when a judge struck down this arrangement. Our struggle should have ended then, but Reed and the City Council are now punishing us for defending our rights by refusing to renew our vending permits.
The city is bizarrely claiming that our victory in December requires this crackdown. The court said only that the city could not turn over all street vending to one company, not that the city had to shut down street vending. In fact, the court’s order specifically told the city that its ruling was “limited to any decision made pursuant to [the parts of the law authorizing the monopoly] and the city may continue its other licensing and regulatory operations.”
The city is perfectly free to let street vendors operate. Atlanta officials shouldn’t continue to claim otherwise. The city could stop its crackdown immediately if it wanted to. Instead, it has decided to harass us and throw us out of business.
Strong-arm tactics like these are why I and my fellow vendors started the Atlanta Vendors Association to stand up for our rights. Civil rights groups like the NAACP, National Action Network, and Institute for Justice are standing by our side. Vendors have a right to pursue the American Dream. Through hard work, we create jobs that help families escape poverty, satisfy thousands of customers every day, and make Atlanta a better place to live and work. City officials need to respect what we do for our communities and let us get back to work.
I am not a criminal. I am not asking for a handout. All I ask is that Atlanta let me run my business in peace.
Larry Miller is president of the Atlanta Vendors Association.
Vending magnets for trouble
By Evens Charles
As a business owner who has been invested in downtown Atlanta for several years, I have witnessed how the city’s disorderly vending operations have contributed to the detriment of the area. I applaud the city and Fulton County Superior Court for finally voiding the ordinance that permitted vending on public property.
The removal of disorderly vendors will undoubtedly alleviate some of the serious problems facing our community. From a public safety standpoint, there will be less loitering and congestion in front of the Five Points train station. Tourists, MARTA riders, students and locals were tired of being illegally solicited, harassed, addressed in lewd manners, panhandled and even intimidated by individuals hanging around the vendors.
Atlanta is a business friendly, ambitious, progressive and international city that should not allow these type of operations on the doorsteps of its busiest train station, on iconic Peachtree Street and in the heart of a downtown that accounts for the highest foot traffic of any place in the city. This gives the area a bad image, making it look lawless, disorderly and devoid of supervision and enforcement.
Some might think this is not a serious problem, but aesthetics is one of the most important features in developing and maintaining a city and civil society. One crucial reason cities have ordinances regulating and licensing street vendors and other businesses is to preserve the character and aesthetics of an area.
Vendors’ failure to maintain clean and orderly operations has directly impacted the values of adjacent properties and hurt brick-and-mortar businesses, as the reputation and image of the area gets tarnished by the chaotic and disorderly way these operations are run.
These vending operations have become magnets for aggressive panhandlers, loiterers and other questionable characters. Individuals make it their staging ground for whatever they’re engaged in. Some stand around harassing women; others panhandle or scam pedestrians and MARTA riders. Plenty others sell cigarettes in singles and conduct illegal activities while using vending operations as their camouflage.
These vending operations give the Five Points area a reputation of lawlessness and chaos. Their condition and presence has contributed to the detriment of the neighborhood. Businesses in the Five Points and Underground area are closing at an alarming rate. The ones that remain are struggling, and property values have a taken a huge hit. Unlike the vendors, these businesses are legitimate taxpaying operations that employ hundreds of people, pay premium rent, comply with rules, regulations and codes, and operate in a relatively orderly manner, mindful of the community that surrounds them.
Many brick-and-mortar operations around the vendors are clearly at a disadvantage when it comes to doing business in this area. These vendors, though operating in the same area and even selling the same products, are not subject to the same property and sales taxes, rent, and strict regulation and code enforcement as the storefronts.
Evens Charles is managing principal for Frontier Development and Hospitality Group LLC.