‘Put us back to work,’ vendors tell Reed

By Bekitembe Eric Taylor Contributing Writer | 4/26/2013, noon
Nearly 20 displaced street peddlers stormed City Hall this week demanding that Mayor Kasim Reed’s office reinstate their vendor licenses ...
Community activist Marcus Coleman (right) helped lead a City Hall protest Tuesday demanding that Mayor Kasim Reed’s office reinstate licenses for street vendors to sell food, souvenirs and other consumer products in Atlanta. (Photo by Vincent Christie).

ATLANTA – Nearly 20 displaced street peddlers stormed City Hall this week demanding that Mayor Kasim Reed’s office reinstate their vendor licenses to sell food, souvenirs and other consumer products on and around local events and venues.

Larry Miller, president of the Atlanta Vendors Association, led a City Hall protest Tuesday, claiming that city officials have snatched the livelihood from scores of city vendors, forcing them to find new sources of income and condemning them to an uncertain fate.

“It’s been almost 30 days since they pulled our licenses, and we have not heard a word from the mayor or the City Council on a new ordinance that would put us back to work,” said Miller, 63. “We have families, car notes, house notes, and children to feed. Did they think about that before they did this to us?”

The plot unfolded in 2009 when city officials decided to change the way vendors apply for public property vending licenses to sell food, souvenirs and other consumer-based products. Rather than approving licenses directly, officials opted to create a third party called General Growth Properties that would review vendor licenses and, when approved, charge a significantly higher rate.

Vendors claimed that officials were trying to privatize vending in Atlanta, thereby transferring street vending to larger corporate entities with deeper pockets. The Atlanta Vendors Association sued the city and won when a Fulton County Superior Court judge ruled against the regulation of street vending by General Growth Properties.

City officials contended that this left the city with no operational strategy for approving vendor licenses, and the City Council was supposed to create a new ordinance defining how licenses would be approved. When that didn’t happen, Reed’s office decided to outlaw street vending altogether, claiming the ruling left the city with no legal way to regulate the industry.

The vendors association, however, said vendors are being punished for winning the lawsuit and for halting the city’s attempt to privatize vending. They also say the timing of the action was suspect because street peddling was eliminated a week before the Final Four basketball tournament came to Atlanta, bringing millions of tourist dollars with it.

City officials now say they are working with the vendors association to find a compromise, although no timetable has been set.

“We are aware of the situation this has put the vendors in, and are working with a consulting firm to find a workable solution,” said David Bennett, senior policy advisor with the city of Atlanta.

Vendors say they’re willing to compromise, too, even willing to yield to regulations calling for a more uniformed presentation of carts, tables or kiosks.

“If they want us to keep the carts cleaned, fine we’ll do that. If they want us to be more uniformed, then we’ll do that,” Miller said. “But something has to be done, now.”

Marcus Coleman, president and founder of the Atlanta chapter of the National Action Network, said he understands the position that the lawsuit put the city in, but said it’s unfair to force once-thriving entrepreneurs to suffer due to politics.

“We realized the policies and politics are a necessary evil,” Coleman said. “All we want is to sit down with Mayor Reed to resolve this issue. It’s only fair. If we have to show up every day until we get this meeting with the mayor, we will.”

Reed’s office confirmed receipt of Coleman’s meeting request – submitted three weeks ago – but told him the final decision for scheduling a meeting is up to Reed.