Put Out by Outdoor Vendors

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The Washington Post

December 22, 1997

In response to the Dec. 7 Close to Home piece “Vendors Out in the Cold,” I agree that vendors have been left out in the cold when it comes to vending near the MCI Center and “Vendors’ Mall.”

However, they have not been left out in the cold when it comes to locating their carts in front of many D.C. stores.

The vendors can offer for sale the same products sold by the nearby storekeepers, including soda, candy, T-shirts, hot dogs, umbrellas and jewelry. The similarity ends when it comes time to pay the rent. The retail store proprietor pays a huge amount of rent — the street vendor pays nothing. A few years ago, my son and I were forced to close a card and gift shop at 1001 Pennsylvania Ave. NW when the rent became excessive, and we became surrounded by street vendors offering unfair competition. The rent became excessive because we, like most D.C. retailers, were required to pay a pro-rata share of the landlord’s operating expense, the largest such expense being the D.C. real-estate property tax. Thus, in addition to paying a base rent, we indirectly paid D.C. property taxes. In addition, the District’s requirements for street vendors and store owners to obtain a food license differ unfairly. When we opened our card and gift shop, we were told by the D.C. Health Department that in order to sell loose candy and jelly beans in one display case, we would need a delicatessen license because this candy was an open food product. To obtain the delicatessen license we would have to install a two-compartment stainless-steel sink, a janitorial sink, a sink where the candy was sold and a bathroom on the premises. When I asked the D.C. Health Department official why street food vendors did not have to comply with these regulations, he stated that they operated under a different set of regulations and stored their carts at a facility that contained a janitorial sink, bathroom, etc. To obtain our deli license, we installed the necessary sink at a great expense. I still cannot understand why a store proprietor has one set of regulations to protect the public’s health and a street vendor selling the same food items is allowed to operate under different regulations. Even a retailer who operates a news stand or similar business that sells prepackaged food items such as candy, potato chips, soda and milk has to obtain a food-products license and fulfill the requirements for access to a bathroom and janitorial sink in the building. There is no doubt in my mind that the control board has to add street vending to the list of D.C. problems that need to be resolved.



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