Gotham Gazette

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Citizens Union

Selling Hotdogs, Getting Ticketed

Anwar Hussein, 34, has been vending in New York for 13 years

Also, by another street vendor in New York City:
• Selling Jewelry, Spending the Night in Jail
by Aeisha

• Pushcart Wars
by Joshua Brustein

Community Gazettes, a look at street vendors in:
Banning Street Vendors from Ground Zero
(Lower Manhattan,
Dist. 1)
From Street Vendor To Small Business
(Flatbush, Dist. 40)
Moving Off 125th Street
(Harlem, Dist. 9)

I'm from Bangladesh, and I have an accounting degree. I worked for the telephone company there, but I can’t get the same job here because I don’t have a diploma from this country. Vending is the best for me, because there is no education requirement, and with my family, I don't have time to take courses.

In 1991, I got a food vending license from the Health Department. If somebody has legal documentation, it’s not that hard, they can get a license. I don't make much money selling hotdogs, $350 to $400 a week. I live with my mom, my wife, my four daughters and my son. I'm able to take care of my family, but I work long hours.

But my license doesn't give me a right to a spot. Every person, when they get a license, finds themselves a spot. Once I got the license, I went to the hot dog company, I rented the pushcart, and I looked at the area around Canal Street. I saw this guy on one block, this guy on another block, and I saw a spot with nobody there.

I set up my cart and started working -– one day, two days, one week. If somebody would have come, and said, "This is my spot, my friend, you have to move," I would have moved. But nobody came, and I've been working this spot for over 10 years. Not only me, but my mom also used to work there, my wife, my uncle. It’s a family business. Now, I have two different spots, and my uncle has another, all near each other.

Every day at nine or ten, I pick up my pushcart from the garage downtown, buy merchandise from another garage, and push my cart to my spot on Broadway and Canal Street. I work from 10 to 7 -- longer hours in the summer -- every day of the week.

Maybe 60 percent of my customers are regulars. They come, they talk. They know me, they know my mom, my wife, because I’ve been working here so many years. Everybody knows me. For the first eight years, everything was good, until the 11 of September.

Since then, business has been going down, and we’ve also been having a lot of problems with the police.

When police come to us, they don't give us respect, they don't ask us nothing. They just come to us, maybe they stay inside the van and say "hey food guy, bring your license." They write the ticket without even getting out of the car. Sometimes they are even smoking while writing tickets.

Last year I got 27 tickets, from $300 to $2,000. They are usually for being less than 20 feet from a store entrance, but I’m 26 feet from the door. I have a tape measure but the police don't want to measure it; they just take the license and give the ticket.

Me, my wife, my mom, everybody, we all did a lot of complaining to the police department because we were all getting tickets. Sean Basinski from the Urban Justice Center helped me take pictures of my spot. When I go to the judge, with a lot of pictures, he sees that I am set up legally. He said I can work here, police should not bother me, and dismissed the fines.

A vendor's job is not easy –- rainy days, snowy days, sunny days, we're outside. Why? Only to make money to take care of our families. But still the police are bothering us. Even if we give them respect, they don't want to take it. They don’t want to think about our life, our situation.


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