The pandemic has ravaged small businesses in New York City, and among the fighters are nearly 20,000 street vendors who have lost 70% to 90% of their income, according to a survey conducted in June and September.
With these small businesses that are such an important part of New York City barely surviving, Morgan Stanley and the Robin Hood Foundation have partnered with the Street Vendor Project (SVP) at the Urban Justice Center (all headquartered in New York) to help millions of businesses distribute dollars to thousands of local vendors.
Street vendors selling groceries, coffee and merchandise in the five boroughs “have defined New York in many ways,” said Raj Borsellino, program director at Robin Hood, a nonprofit that helps New Yorkers out of poverty, told CNBC Make It.
“It’s people we recognize. It’s people we’ve met and who we really need to get through our days and give New York City the vibe it has.”
Although the $ 2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) bill was passed in March and small business support was distributed through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), “many street vendors have turned out not qualified for it, also because of immigration status or for other reasons, “says Borsellino.
“These providers live every day,” says Mohamed Attia, director of SVP at the Urban Justice Center.
And many of the street vendors – according to Borsellino disproportionately immigrants, blacks, Latinos and in some cases also without papers – are also among the “most severely affected by Covid”. Borsellino notes that one in four street vendors either had Covid-19 themselves or a close family member who did.
Because of the role street vendors play in the daily life of the community, Morgan Stanley employees who work at their Times Square headquarters in Manhattan were “concerned about their vendors and the coffee carts,” said Joan Steinberg, president of Morgan Stanley Foundation. (Many people who work in town become regulars with certain vendors.)
To help, Morgan Stanley, Robin Hood, and SVP are offering assistance to more than 2,000 New York City providers up to $ 1,000. Morgan Stanley has pledged $ 2 million and Robin Hood has donated an additional $ 375,000 to fund the initiative.
“This entire population is in such great trouble,” says Steinberg. “This is a personal deal for those who have worked and lived in New York City. These vendors are on every corner. They are your neighborhood.”
One seller who received assistance is MD Alam, a Bangladeshi immigrant who has been a street vendor in New York City since 2000. He and his wife Hira run his business with Bangladeshi kitchen carts on 44th Street and 6th Avenue.
But these days “it’s like a ghost town,” Alam says of Manhattan’s Times Square. “I’ve never seen [this] in my 20 years. “
MD Alam works in his Bangladeshi kitchen in Times Square.
Courtesy Scott Peterman, LLC
Alam, who like other street vendors relies on office workers for customers, says ahead of the pandemic, “Business was so good.”
But in March, when dozens of offices closed for home orders, his business hit a wall.
“How are we supposed to sell groceries? There are no people. There are no office workers. Offices are closed,” he says. “I haven’t been in business for five months.”
Even now that Alam’s business is open again, many office workers are still working from home. “Not even 10 customers come [a day],” he says.
Although Alam had some savings, he also has expenses such as a permit fee of $ 300 per day, plus groceries, supplies, and utilities.
“It’s very hard. We don’t make much money, but whatever you make, it’s about costs. Nothing goes in your pocket.”
“We have no more savings,” says Alam.
Funding or government support “would be very helpful for providers,” says Alam. “It’s very difficult for our family.”
Although the nearly $ 2.4 million that will be distributed will help this community, “we are still looking for a longer-term solution here regarding Covid aid that extends to all populations in the city,” says Borsellino.
“Most of these street vendors are immigrants who came to the US in search of a better life for themselves and their families. Many of them truly embody what we have come to know as the ‘American Dream’,” he says.
And “while many of us had the luxury of working remotely in the pandemic … we were still trying to make a living. They worked extremely hard day in and day out, and did so many times – an enormous risk to themselves himself, “says Borsellino.
Steinberg hopes for further support for street vendors.
“We have to help them in the short term in order to reach them in the longer term,” she says. “We need to think about creating just bouts so everyone can relax. We don’t want them to be left behind when the rest of the economy rebuilds.”
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