Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Street vendors rallied Monday to protest the District’s regulations for Inauguration Day, complaining about excessive fees and a lottery that will award only a limited number of vending spaces amid a large throng expected for the ceremony.

There will be 716 sites near the inaugural parade route and another 1,000 around the city. Although that’s up from the 100 spaces the city gave out for the 2005 inauguration, the slots are an especially precious commodity this time because of huge crowds expected for Barack Obama‘s swearing-in ceremony.

D.C. officials are accepting applications until Tuesday for the vending lottery and will announce the winners Jan. 6. The city is charging fees of $265 for licensed vendors and $840 for unlicensed vendors to work Jan. 20. Licensed vendors have already paid for permits that cost up to $1,600 per year. Those caught selling products without permits face penalties, officials said.

About 20 vendors and their supporters gathered at the city’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) Monday morning to rally against those rules, holding signs that say “DCRA Unfair to Vendors” and “No Excessive Fees.” Organizers said they thought some vendors stayed away for fear of retribution and that others could not afford to miss work.

The lottery violates standard vending regulations, which allow vendors to choose their desired location on a first-come, first-served basis, the protesters said. They also say the city’s decision to announce the winners only two weeks before the big day leaves them little time to stock up on food, drinks and merchandise.

Ted Walker, chairman of the Vendor’s Caucus, said the lottery doesn’t guarantee locations for vendors and could make them lose money.

“With a lottery, you can get a bad spot, and you won’t sell anything. You’ll have $5,000 worth of stuff, and you’ll have to eat it,” he said.

Mary Kangethe, a merchandise vendor, said the lottery threatens to move her from the downtown location she’s held for more than 15 years.

“We ask the DCRA to consider the vendors who’ve been vending here all their lives. They might move us to areas where there’s no activity, and we can’t make money,” she added.

According to the DCRA Web site, the lottery is being held in a way intended to adhere to heightened security measures, and that three lotteries will determine the vendors’ spots.

Vendors who normally operate inside the designated inaugural vending zone may participate in the first lottery to obtain the first 300 spots inside the area. A second lottery is for licensed D.C. vendors working in other areas of the District and who wish to obtain a spot within the inaugural vending zone. The remaining lottery will place any vendor at the remaining sites.

Despite the preference policy, vendors worry that their assigned locations won’t get heavy pedestrian traffic.

In a written statement from the DCRA, Director Linda K. Argo said all the vending sites are located in “pedestrian-rich areas across the city.”

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