Vendors who sell their wares on the streets and sidewalks of the District want the D.C. Council to pass two pieces of legislation that will make their businesses legitimate before the city government.
On Nov. 29, about nine street vendors set up pop-up stands and tents and joined with members of Vendors United and their supporters in front of the John A. Wilson Building in Northwest to protest mistreatment by District government officials and calling for the council to pass the Street Vending Decriminalization Act of 2021 and the Sidewalk Vending Zones Amendment Act of 2021. The Street Vending Decriminalization Act would remove criminal penalties for vending without a proper license.
The Sidewalk Vending Zones Act would amend the District’s Vending Regulations Act of 2009 to establish designated zones for sidewalk selling and allow vendors to apply to the mayor’s office to establish new zones.
“We need the council to pass these two bills,” said Sunni Stuart, a co-owner of the Sunni Teez Kitchen based in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Northwest. “You cannot sell without a license on the streets. The police will come and arrest you.”
Stuart said many people in the District think of food truck operators as street vendors, but that’s not the case.
“Food trucks have licenses,” she said. “You should have a license to sell food the way they do. We are the people who don’t have the trucks and set up on the sidewalk. Besides, getting a food license is expensive.”
Stuart runs her business in front of the Target located on 14th Street., N.W. at the DC USA Mall.
Stuart said she feels the harassment has an element of racial discrimination.
“All of the street vendors that get harassed by the police are either Black or Brown,” she said. “When you are Black or Brown, you are looked at differently by the police and other government officials. I don’t like that and I want it to change. I want to be a part of the change.”
The Street Vending Decriminalization Act has nine council members—Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), Anita Bonds (D-At Large), Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4), Christina Henderson (I-At Large), Robert White (D-At Large) and Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3)—that support it. The Street Vending bill sits before the Committee of the Whole and the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety.
The Sidewalk Vending Zone bill has the support of Nadeau, R. White, Lewis George, McDuffie and Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7). The bill sits in the Committee of the Whole.
On Nov. 16, both bills appeared before the Committee of the Whole chaired by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D). Megan Felix Macaraeg, the organizing director for the Beloved Community Incubator who works with Vendors United, said Mendelson is the problem moving the bills forward.
“We have 10 votes on the council to move the bills,” she said. “The chairman is standing in the way of final passage of these bills.”
Later that day, Vendors United and its supporters marched to Mendelson’s office to protest his inaction toward their bills.