By John Catsimatidis
As most New Yorkers know, I am a successful businessman. I started my first business from scratch when I was in my twenties. You take on a huge risk when you start a new business. I know firsthand the incredible hard work, long hours and personal and financial investment involved in opening and running a neighborhood store. I remember the constant worry in those early years about making a payroll and paying the bills. I knew my employees were counting on me each week for their paycheck so they could pay the rent and feed their families.
Sadly, in too many Brooklyn neighborhoods, our small business owners, like many of the “mom and pop” stores we all grew up with, are facing unfair competition from street vendors.
Brick and mortar business owners are faced with paying high rents, sky-rocketing insurance premiums and excessive permit fees, fines, and taxes. On top of all this, they are competing with street vendors who sell identical products at much cheaper prices because they do not have these same overhead costs and/or they simply are not collecting or paying taxes.
It is time that our city had comprehensive and clear guidelines governing all street vendors; including regulations preventing them from selling products carried by nearby businesses and creating designated areas for them to sell their wares.
Small businesses are the backbone of our neighborhoods and our city. The men and women who own and run these businesses provide local jobs, pay city, state, and federal taxes and get involved with our community boards, civic organizations, and business improvement districts (BID's) to enhance the communities where they live and work. Many of these businesses struggle to make ends meet. Losing even one customer to a street vendor means losing much needed revenue, making it extremely difficult to stay afloat.
In addition to an unfair economic advantage, street vendors, especially mobile food carts and trucks, are often responsible for increased litter on our sidewalks and blocking access to and visibility of the store. Ironically, when there is litter on the sidewalk, it is usually the local storeowner who receives the fine from the Sanitation Department for not cleaning their sidewalk and gutter.
Also, when street vendors and mobile carts clutter busy commercial strips they create a safety hazard, obstructing residents and shoppers walking along already crowded streets and trying to cross busy intersections. In fact, some years ago Brooklyn Community Boards 10 and 11, the 86th street BID, and elected officials of both political parties united in a request to the NYC Department of Small Business Services to include mobile food carts as part of the BID's vendor-free zone. This zone in Bay Ridge, between 4th Avenue and Fort Hamilton Parkway on 86th street, was created by the city because of the high volume of pedestrian and vehicular traffic.
Street vendors have every right to make a living and follow their American Dream, as I followed mine; however, this should not be at the expense of small businesses and should not interfere with the quality of life in our communities.
As Mayor, I will enact policies that promote fairness amongst all types of entrepreneurs. I will ensure a level playing field between all business owners from “mom and pop” stores to mobile food carts, and will implement city policies that allow businesses of all kinds to open, grow, and expand to create more jobs.
John Catsimatidis’ business career started over 40 years ago with one grocery store on Manhattan’s upper Westside. He now runs one of America’s largest privately held companies with holdings in the retail, energy, real estate, and aviation sectors. He is currently a Republican candidate for mayor.