D.C. Vendors To Get First Chance at Choice Spots

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 18, 2008

The District's street vendors, who feared they would be pushed out of an inaugural payday by out-of-town competitors, will get first preference for 716 prime spots downtown and just south of the Mall, officials said yesterday.

The city intends to create about 1,000 additional vending locations in areas likely to have large crowds the day of Barack Obama's inauguration as president, including RFK Stadium, where thousands of charter buses are expected to park.

The plan addresses concerns of established vendors while meeting the need to provide visitors with easy access to food, souvenirs and accessories, such as gloves and scarves, said Sam Williams, the city's vending coordinator.

Initially, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs was considering a plan to limit the number of vendors to 500 for the Jan. 20 event, and local vendors were to be placed in a lottery with outside competitors.

With predictions that the crowd could be far larger than the record 1.2 million that attended the inauguration of President Lyndon B. Johnson, the regulatory agency had to rethink that strategy, Williams said.

"Nothing about this inauguration is usual," he said. "We knew we had to dramatically increase the number of sites . . . The last inauguration only had 100 sites."

In a nod to current vendors, the city will hold three lotteries for the prime spots downtown and near the Mall. The National Park Service contracts with a separate company to run the kiosks and stores at the Mall, where other vendors are barred from setting up.

The first lottery will be exclusively for the 300 or so vendors already licensed in the area. "They get first dibs on where they want to go within the zone," said Michael Rupert, a DCRA spokesman.

A second lottery for remaining spots will be held for about 600 other licensed D.C. vendors, while a third lottery will be a free-for-all if any sites are left. All lottery participants must be licensed or apply for a temporary inaugural license. Lottery winners will be announced by Jan. 6.

A current vendor will pay a minimum of $125 to operate Inauguration Day, and unlicensed vendors will be hit with a minimum of $700 in fees.

"It sounds like we can work with that," said Timothy Jenkins, an attorney for D.C. Vendors United, a group that represents the local small-business people. "We're going to be able to protect the sweat equity they put in their sites."

The 716 spots are in what's called the Inaugural Vending Zone. Vendors will not be able to get into the zone without an inaugural vending badge and permit. The city will also check for proper identification in "overflow areas," where the 1,000 other spots will be, Williams said.

Vendor Ted Walker, who is set up at 12th and G streets NW, said the next question is where officials will set up security entrances, which will have huge crowds. "That's the hidden hand," he said.

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