Flower Power: Partial Win for Hialeah Vendors

Mobile vendors won a partial victory on Tuesday, after the Hialeah City Council altered many vending regulations. More than 35 people rallied at City Hall to support these entrepreneurs. First, the good news. After the Institute for Justice sued the city in 2011, the council voted to eliminate a 300 foot proximity ban. This ban prevented vendors from selling near stores that sold “the same or similar merchandise,” which greatly restricted where they could legally earn a living.

Hialeah’s city council also approved allowing vendors to store and display merchandise (usually fruits, flowers, and/or bottles of cold water) on private property, as long they have the owner’s permission. Unfortunately, the city preserved and even passed more anticompetitive restrictions.

Vendors can still only display goods they can carry. The city also enacted new bans on vending near highways (usually done for shade) and selling prepared food.

Finally, the Hialeah City Council decided to keep a confusing “keep moving” vending requirement. According to Mayor Carlos Hernandez, “We’re doing this to make sure that they don’t put themselves at risk, or put anybody at risk,” citing videos and pictures of merchants walking through gridlock. But if vendors could stay and sell in one location for longer periods of time, then they wouldn’t have to risk walking through traffic. Plus, as IJ Attorney Claudia Murray points out, “Requiring them to move all the time means they can’t build up a customer base. And if they can’t build up a customer base, they can’t build a business.”

However, one of the main arguments against street vendors wasn’t economics, but distaste. Mayor Hernandez supports restricting vendors, in order to prevent Hialeah from becoming a “flea market.” Of course, it’s better to have a “flea market” than lines of unemployed. Not to mention the mayor’s comments denigrate the hard work and dedication of Hialeah’s vendors. Or as IJ attorney Claudia Murray put it: “vending is the first stepping stone to the American dream.”

Take Indiana Baez, a local street vendor. She told the city council in Spanish on Tuesday that she vends “to live every day, to bring food to our families.”Or there’s Silvio Membreno, an IJ client in the lawsuit to overturn anti-competitive vending laws. An immigrant from Nicaragua, Silvio has been selling flowers for the past 15 years, in order to take care of his three children. Thanks to his experience, he has become an unofficial leader of Hialeah’s vendors, helping them grow their businesses and deal with any legal problems from the city.

In fact, Silvio specifically argues vendors are “not asking for a hand out”:

“We’re not asking for a hand out; we’re not asking for any kind of special benefit. Instead we are fighting for people who more often than not are unemployed; who have nothing to eat at home, who by selling a flower can bring food home for their families…Just because we’re not in a storefront doesn’t mean we’re doing something wrong. It just means we have to work harder.”

To protect the rights of vendors like Indiana and Silvio, the Institute for Justice is planning on amending its lawsuit to reflect the legislative change and continue fighting for the rights of Hialeah street vendors to earn an honest living.


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