Jan 06, 2016 - 10:30am

No Easy Street: How Regulations Curb the Success of America’s Street Vendors


Executive Director, Communications & Strategy

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Street Vendors

Not even the smallest of businesses are safe from stifling government regulations.

That’s the takeaway from a recent report examining the increasingly detrimental impact of city regulations on America’s street vendors, from food truck operators to hotdog stand owners to ballpark souvenir salesmen. Published by the Institute for Justice, the report illustrates how city governments are strangling street vendors with often arbitrary rules concerning, for instance, when, where and how they can operate. The rules, researchers say, threaten not only the livelihood of some of our country’s most hard-working entrepreneurs, but also the growth of many local economies.

“Results indicate that vending offers an accessible avenue to entrepreneurship, especially for economically disadvantaged groups,” Dick M. Carpenter II, the group’s director of strategic research, wrote in a blog post. “Moreover, vendors are hard-working business owners and job creators.”

Unfortunately, Carpenter explained, many vendors are being kicked to the curb, so to speak, by what he described as “outright bans and arbitrary limits on when, where and how they may work in cities coast to coast.” The study highlights many specific cases of regulatory nightmares, including a decades-old pop-up baseball souvenir shop in Atlanta and a cupcake food truck in Chicago that helps raise money for cancer research, both of which have been nearly crippled by new restrictions on where they can operate.

Such burdensome and often puzzling restrictions not only “cost cities economic activity, jobs and taxes, but they also close off an otherwise viable path to the American Dream,” Carpenter added.

Citing the street vendor study, Forbes contributor George Leef elaborated on the problem in a column published earlier this week, arguing that “it is much harder to start from scratch and achieve prosperity through business” today than it was in the past. In fact, Leef posits that many of the entrepreneurs we now celebrate as business success stories - ones who started small and built thriving, job-creating companies - “would today crash on the rocks of federal, state and local law.”

He added: “Competition is the driving force behind economic growth and innovation. It is also the path to personal prosperity for many people. It could be the path for many more if governments would stop hobbling businesses with regulations that do little or no good.”

The study and the stories it brings to light are further evidence that the burden of overregulation isn’t limited to large companies or highly regulated industries, nor is it limited to rules emanating from federal policymakers in Washington (though there’s no shortage of that, either). Our nation’s smallest businesses are being hammered by onerous regulations, as well, many of them coming from their own city leaders.

Moreover, these stories should serve as a wake-up call to government leaders at every level , who must take a hard look at our regulatory systems and find ways to improve the rule-making process so that we encourage – not inhibit – entrepreneurship, competition and economic growth.

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About the Author

About the Author

J.D. Harrison
Executive Director, Communications & Strategy

J.D. Harrison is the Executive Director for Strategic Communications at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.