D.C. vending regs could improve street-cart food


Street vendors will have to clean up their act if the proposed regulations make it past the D.C. Council. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

For years now, sidewalk vending has remained stagnant while its mobile counterpart has multiplied like feral cats. The reason is simple: The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs cannot issue new sidewalk vending licenses until the regulations spell out the procedures for how the city will permit locations for vendors.

The proposed rules, published Friday in the D.C. Register, lay out those procedures. Many existing vendors will be grandfathered into their current locations, while new vendors will have to apply for a one-year location permit based on available sites in the District. (The regulations suggest possible sites and neighborhoods.) The permit will cost $587 for year, regardless of whether the location is in, say, Georgetown or upper Georgia Avenue NW. (The fee for the Nationals Park Vending Zone will be $123 per month.)

“We’ve had a lot of people that have said, ‘I want to open a sidewalk vendor cart,’ and we say, ‘We’re sorry, we can’t,’ ” says Helder Gil, legislative affairs specialist with DCRA “Hopefully [the new rules] will bring more competition than your standard hot dog and half-smoke offerings.”

The regulations will have to go through the usual public comment period, possible rewrites, the committee process and, finally, D.C. Council approval before they become law. But if the rules pass as is, Washingtonians could see more options on the streets. Gil casually mentioned foods such as Ethio­pian platters, kebabs and noodle dishes, each almost as foreign among old-school carts as foie gras. (Speaking of which, maybe Jose Andressecret food truck will sell cotton-candy foie gras, eh?)

There are two caveats, however, that will no doubt raise some eyebrows among food cart vendors. First:Once the regulations are passed, current sidewalk vendors will have a year to comply with the tightened rules on cart aesthetics. For instance, if vendors don’t follow the rules on the maximum number of umbrellas allowed (as in umbrella, singular), they could face DCRA fines, possible suspended site permits or even revocation of their vending license.

The second caveat: Ward 2 will be capped at 350 sidewalk vendor locations, DCRA’s Gil notes. That sounds like a lot, but at present there are already about 340 sidewalk vendors in that downtown area, Gil says. The regulations essentially then freeze sidewalk vending to its current number; a site permit will, of course, become available via lottery when a vendor decides to surrender one. But otherwise there will be only a few available in downtown Washington.­

Tim Carman serves as the full-time writer for the Post's Food section and as the $20 Diner for the Weekend section, a double duty that requires he ingest more calories than a draft horse.

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