It is no secret that Americans are spending less time eating in, but with the economy in shambles, who can afford to eat out every day? This dilemma has driven some to seek out the street vendors that occupy so much of Roosevelt Avenues curbs. A typical stand offers Central and South American food such as chorizo, tacos, and quesadillas.
Street vendors seem to be the solution for those who don’t have the time to sit down or the money to spend on service. A stop at a food vendor takes no longer than ten minutes, costs range $2 to $5 per item, there is no tax, and there is no obligation when it comes to tips.
The voice of the vendor is one of optimism.
“The truth is the truth,” says Patricia Gonzalez, a food vendor from Colombia who has been in the states for six months. “You maintain yourself. We are certainly not suffering.”
In fact, speak to any vendor and they will tell you there is little to grumble about. Surely things have been a little slow lately and business is better in the summer, but they get by.
“You can’t complain,” echoes Alejandra Gonzalez, a Mexican woman who has been in the states for two-and-a-half years. “We aren’t limited to Hispanic customers; everybody comes here, so business does well.”
Unfortunately, not everyone shares the sentiments of the street vendors. Affordability and convenience has trumped the lure of restaurants in the area. With more people seeking out the quick fix for hunger, restaurants have suffered. While stopping at a food stand may keep more dollars in your pocket, it also endangers the job security of local restaurant employees.
At 5:30 p.m. on a Friday, Tierras Deliciosas on Roosevelt Avenue is empty except for one table. The two waiters working lean on the counter and make chitchat as their only table figures out the tip and prepare to leave. There are also two cooks standing in the kitchen awaiting orders, while just down the block a line is forming at the stand of a street vendor.
“It’s not fair,” said Claudia Quintero, manager of Tierras Deliciosas. “Everyday you see more and more business on the street. They make more, a thousand times more because they don’t pay taxes. We have to pay taxes, our employees, and rent. They don’t have to pay for anything.”
Though the food vendors seem to be the popular choice for on-the-go New Yorkers, Quintero says that the local businesses all want them gone. Some are even beginning to complain, leading police to patrol the busy street and ask vendors to provide licenses.
“The police come to check our licenses, but if your papers are in order they don’t bother you,” says Alejandra Gonzalez.
The Sanitation Department is left as the local businesses last line of defense. If a food vendor does not pass inspections, they are immediately shut down.
“[The sanitation department] come in and everything must be right on,” explains Gonzalez. “The cold products [temperatures] must be on point. The hot [food] must be on point. They check everything.”
Some restaurants have caught on to the trend and have deployed their own stands. A stand, on the corner of Gleane Street and Roosevelt Avenue asks patrons to visit their restaurant, La Tia, for more options.