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More Advocacy Needed for Micro and Small Businesses

A few weeks ago I stepped out to buy lunch at one of the food carts in the square opposite  Zuccotti Park, the park that was made famous by "Occupy Wall Street" protesters. But instead of the usual line of food carts like Biriyani Cart and Dumpling House, I found the dismayed vendors holding a press conference. They had arrived that morning to discover they had lost their spaces to the bike docking stands that are part of New York’s new bike sharing program. 

With a simple flick of a Street Vendors Protest Bike Sharing Standspen, a city official had signed off on assigning that space for use as docking stations and suddenly fifteen families had lost their livelihoods. CBS News quoted Doris Yau, who has been selling pot stickers and noodles on this spot for three years, who said "You know, Rome, [wasn’t] built in one day. But they destroy [it] in one minute."

To add insult to injury, the vendors had only discovered their spaces were being appropriated when they had come to work that morning. No one in city government had considered it important to let them know beforehand.

Hardworking vendors like Meru Sikder, who sells delicious food from Biryani Cart, were now forced into the roles of protestors and street vendor advocates, holding signs saying things like "Vendors heart bikes but we need space too."

Fortunately the Street Vendor Project was already there to support the vendors and try to help them find new spaces – a daunting task in an area with limited space for food carts.

Events like this serve to remind us, at BCNA, of the direct and very often dramatic impact New York City’s policies have on micro and small businesses and the inability of low to moderate income entrepreneurs to challenge new policies that have an adverse effect on their businesses.

Then, a few days later another one of our clients was negatively affected by legislation, ironically also bicycle-related, when New York’s City Council voted to ban electric bikes.

"We certainly disagree with the new law as it makes no distinctions between scooter type electric bicycles used for food deliveries and our traditional bicycles with small electric assist motors," says BCNA client Yevgeniy Mordkovich, Founding Partner of EVELO Bikes. "The trend is the opposite in other parts of the country where ebikes are being warmly welcomed. But since we sell nationwide, we see this as just a temporary "bump in the road" for us."

While EVELO is fortunate that they are not completely dependent on changing New York laws and policies, the street vendors aren’t as fortunate. 

We need to rethink how we can make sure the voices of low to moderate entrepreneurs, who cannot afford lobbyists, are heard so that they have a say in decisions that are potentially catastrophic to their businesses.