A year after the District restructured the rules for vending businesses with a set of controversial changes, most of the major problems addressed by the rules have been solved, although some of the finer points of the regulations are often openly flouted.
The new rules raised license fees, increased bond requirements, restricted the types of merchandise that may be sold, limited the hours of business, required vendors to display their licenses prominently, established restrictions on the size and appearance of stands and carts, and limited where and how close to one another vendors could work.
Of the 50 vendors checked last week by The Washington Post, only 16 met all of the city's requirements.
The violations that were found, however, were primarily minor cosmetic or spacing infractions.
The new regulations have been a success, according to Benjamin Johnson, an administrator for the Business Regulatory Administration.
"Vending had gotten out of control," Johnson said. "People were vending in the middle of sidewalks and putting milk crates and everything all over, making the sidewalks too narrow for pedestrians to cross."
Johnson said, "This year, the streets are less congested."
The new rules reduced the number of licensed vendors in the city from 5,600 two years ago to 1,200 this year, according to Johnson. "We lost more than 4,000 vendors when the bond requirement went in," he said.
"What it did was filter out the fly-by-nighters," he said. "The people who get licensed now make their livelihood vending on the street."
Of the 34 stands examined last week that did not meet the city's new standards, most were in violation of the rule requiring a 10-foot space between stands.
Vendors said they felt they could get by without obeying the spacing rule because police usually only asked the vendors to move, rather than issuing a ticket.
Other stands violated the requirement that each table have a blue skirt to cover the area underneath the vendors' tables or the regulation that prevents vendors from keeping a wastebasket beside a food cart. Under the new rules, nothing unattached to the cart may rest beside it.
Although Johnson's division is responsible for licensing vendors, the police department's vending unit has enforcement responsibility. "I'd have to say they're doing a good job," Johnson said.
The vending unit, which has seven full-time inspectors, writes about 10 tickets a day and doesn't give many warnings, according to Gregory Archer, a vending inspector.
"If a guy got his license yesterday, then of course we'll give him a warning," Archer said, "but we know all the vendors in the street, so we usually ticket on the first offense."
According to Archer, the violations found by The Post were the ones most often cited by the police, who hand out $50 tickets.
"A lot of vendors have trouble maintaining the blue skirt," Archer said. The skirt, by law, must be dark blue, cover all sides of the table and extend to no less than an inch from the sidewalk.
Archer said spacing was also a problem. "We have nine to 10 vendors trying to set up in a high-traffic area that has room for only four or five, and they block pedestrians completely," he said.
Vendors in the downtown area said the police generally checked on them every two to four weeks, but those in what vendors call the tourist area -- between Pennsylvania Avenue and the Mall -- said the police come by only once or twice a year.
"They come out for about a week in the spring and give tickets for everything," said one vendor, who asked to remain unidentified. "Then they make loads of arrests on the Fourth of July."
Blair Wright, a high school student from Great Falls, Va., who is vending for the summer, said he had been told by others in the tourist area that the police only check them out about once a year.
Last summer, the District instituted vending regulations it said were designed to reduce sidewalk congestion, improve sales tax collection and protect consumers. Vendors contended that the rules were the result of an effort by traditional businesses to stifle low-cost competition, and hastily banded with a labor union to sue the city.
The issue was resolved in late June with a compromise that satisfied neither group.
The first set of adopted regulations were radically different from those now in place. The first rules, which were only reconsidered after vendors began displaying signs depicting the mayor as a puppet to bigger business interests, required all nonfood vendors to use wooden carts that met exacting specifications and cost about $1,300.
They also prohibited sidewalk sales of clothes and other items regularly found in stores.
Things on the street have cooled this summer, and the city is trying to keep it that way.
On Friday, representatives of the two groups that spent last summer fighting each other and the city about the regulations met at the first meeting of the Mayor's Advisory Committee on Street Vending, promising to "put aside personal interests and bring objectivity to the board," according to Johnson.
"I think this time we're going to have a major breakthrough," Johnson said. "It's the first time I've seen anything like this. It's like an olive branch has been extended from the vendors to the merchants."
The committee of five merchants, five vendors and a citizen chairman was formed last month to reexamine the vending regulations and recommend any necessary changes in them. Mayor Marion Barry appointed members to the board, which will meet monthly once its organizational structure is confirmed.
The mayor's committee, Johnson said, will go a long way toward making adjustments, cosmetic and otherwise, in the regulations.
"Those 'regs' were put together in a hostile environment," Johnson said, in which personal interests dominated, making the vending issue a political nightmare.
This year, he said, " . . . we're putting level-headed residents of the District together to look at it in terms of what's good for the city."