Memorial vigil for late Corona street vendor serves as a call for action on food sale permits

Residents gather at a candlelight vigil and rally on Feb. 21 in honor of the late Corona street vendor Claudia Lopez.
Photo courtesy of the Street Vendor Project

For more than 20 years, Claudia Lopez served churros to customers on Roosevelt Avenue below the elevated 7 line in Corona, even though she never had the food vending license she wanted to operate the business.

Lopez died of cancer last year, and her family members and friends gathered under the Junction Boulevard station on Tuesday night at the spot where she used to work not only to remember her life, but to also call on the city to make it easier for other street vendors to receive an operating license.

The event was organized by the Street Vendor Project at the Urban Justice Center, a program advocating for the passage of Intro. 1303, a City Council bill that would lift a cap on the number of street vendor permits issued each year. The cap, first imposed in 1983, makes only 3,100 food vending permits available annually; with thousands of applicants each year, many business operators must wait years in order to get their permit.

Some vendors on the waiting list, such as Lopez, choose not to wait and conduct business anyway. Even though she sold churros without the permit, according to the Street Vendor Project, she became an active merchant in the community, eventually joining the 82nd Street Partnership business improvement district. Lopez worked with the Street Vendor Project to advocate for the passage of Intro. 1303 that would have enabled her to finally obtain a food vendor license.

“Claudia Lopez was a beloved member of the Queens and street vending community. She was the embodiment of the American dream and was a fierce advocate for street vendors,” said Sean Basinski, director of the Street Vendor Project. “It’s time New York recognizes that this permit cap has for too long hindered vendors like Claudia. It’s time for New York to lift the cap.”

If adopted, the legislation would double the number of available food vending permits over a 7-year period, with 5 percent of the permits reserved for veterans. The city would also create a vending law enforcement unit focused solely on enforcing vending regulations, as well as a street vendor advisory board to examine the rules and eliminate any redundant, unclear or unnecessary rules.

Fourteen City Council members, including Queens Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and Councilmen I. Daneek Miller, Donovan Richards and Eric Ulrich, are co-sponsors of the legislation, which is now sitting in the City Council Consumer Affairs Committee.

More than 2,200 street vendors are part of the Street Vendor Project’s campaign to have more food vending permits made available.