New Chicago mobile food street vendor ordinance impacts employment and community


Maria Mendoza Fuentes stands by her Neighbor Cart at Division and Ashland

Licensed produce vendors may now legally sell "whole and uncooked agricultural, plant-based items, including, but not limited to, fruits, vegetables, legumes, edible grains, nuts, spices, herbs and cut flowers " on moveable stands as a result of an ordinance passed by Chicago's City Council, Wed., June 6. "This ordinance will bring vendors like Maria Mendoza Fuentes and her husband Jeremias, at Ashland and Division, out of the shadows and that is why I co-sponsored it," said Proco "Joe" Moreno , 1st Ward Alderman.

According to the ordinance, the number of mobile stands on private property are unlimited though the number of such vendors on the public way will number 30 in a pilot program ending Dec. 31, 2013. Each public way use permit will be $75 paid annually on its anniversary and shall not be prorated.

As part of a list of rules and regulations, the ordinance states: "Advertisements may be displayed on produce stands operating on the public way as provided by rules and regulations adopted by the commissioner."

With an overall goal of having fresh fruit, vegetables and meat within one mile of every city resident, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's pledged to reduce, by half, the 450,000 city residents living in food deserts this year. That resulted in his sponsoring the amendment of Titles 4, 7, 10 and 17 of Municipal Code regarding produce merchants. The ordinance was vetted by the Committee on License and Consumer Protection, of which Moreno is a member. The City believes that vendors on private property will be able to be licensed by the end of the week while those on the public way may take a couple more weeks.

Local vendor
The Fuentes have been doing business at or near Division and Ashland for a few years. Explaining why she began her business, Maria, the mother of four, says, "I wanted my business to grow to bring a little more income in. We began with a small cart that my husband made."

They were operating under a Peddlers License. A Peddler, according to the ordinance, is a person who moves from place to place selling goods, merchandise, fruits or vegetables that are whole and uncut. A peddler may sell from a wagon, pushcart, handcart, pack or basket. They do not have a specific location and are prone to being ticketed.

However, lately things have been going much more smoothly for the Fuentes. They have a Neighbor Cart and are working with John Piercy, Pres. and Fndr., Neighbor Capital; the City; and Jim LoBianco, Exec. Dir., StreetWise.


Customer makes her choice while she and Maria talk

The Neighbor Cart program
The Neighbor Cart program by Neighbor Capital provides individuals an opportunity to lease carts, provides support to the lessees and provides a product sourcing channel.

Piercy established Neighbor Capital in 2009 as a privately funded social-impact business focused on providing a single source of innovative solutions and sustainable ideas to:

  • Improve health and wellness for individuals in traditionally underserved communities
  • Improve and create jobs for individuals with employment hurdles
  • Improve the environment and promote healthy green space

Using a social-impact business model, they help the under and unemployed establish their own businesses. Thereby as the individual businesses grow, so does the social-impact. In fact these businesses become part of a community's fabric. Piercy relates the story of how one of the local homeless men became concerned that Maria was standing all the time. One day a chair appeared. He brought it so that she didn't have to stand all the time.

As Piercy says, "As we grow, so do vendor opportunities, access to healthy foods and greater social interaction throughout Chicago."

Under the Peddler Ordinance, Piercy worked to learn what rules and regulations and licensing were required by several City departments to bring their program into the City. In late 2011, Neighbor Capital was awarded a grant from the Chicago Department of Housing and Economic Development for vendor training and support. National Capital then engaged StreetWise to screen prospective Neighbor Cart applicants as well as provide job readiness and support, as needed, to vendor candidates. In addition, StreetWise will facilitate a one-time half-day vendor readiness orientation for prospective Neighbor Cart vendors.

"Working with StreetWise is a great experience, they bring a lot of expertise to the table with working with their homeless program. In the Neighbor Cart program, however, vendors are not necessarily former StreetWise Magazine vendors," explains Piercy.

The Fuente's cart is the first Neighbor Cart (NC) in the City and with the new ordinance in place, the NC program will provide Neighbor Capital greater opportunities to expand the program, stimulating the economy and increasing the number of employed residents.

Also covered in the Chicago Tribune



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