There are roughly 20,000 street vendors working throughout New York City, including many people who started vending after losing their jobs during the pandemic. They kept New York City running when it was at its worst, providing food, masks and conversation. While you can (and should!)  celebrate street vendors for their hard work any day, International Street Vendor day is on Nov. 14.

If you have been subscribed to Epicenter-NYC for a while you may remember that we previously spoke with two street vendors: Hani Waly a halal food vendor from Egypt, and Antonio Cordova a mask vendor from Ecuador. Epicenter-NYC reporter Andrea Pineda-Salgado reached back out this week to see how they have been doing.

Photo: Andrea Pineda-Salgado / Epicenter NYC

Antonio Cordova

Epicenter: How have you been doing since we last spoke?

Cordova: I am always fighting. As long as I am alive and I have my health I will keep going. If you don’t have health you can’t do anything, so you have to take advantage. The police have come to me on two or three occasions to ask for my permit to sell here, but I told them I don’t have any permit. So I show them my lawyer credentials. I tell them I am trying to work here so I can get credentials here, but they say that doesn’t work for them. I have been asking around, I have gone to Make the Road [an organization that works with and is led by immigrants in New York City] and they have helped me get health insurance. I asked for a lawyer to help me get a work permit but they say it is too difficult, the process is worse for citizenship.

Epicenter: Has business gotten better?

Cordova: I have been able to maintain my business because I have been working as a painter sometimes. I know how to paint interiors, because I learned as a kid. But it’s one or two days [a week]. So I am still selling masks, but if I get a painting job I go, but I am still on the same corner selling masks, selling toys—whatever is popular. The virus hasn’t completely gone away. If it definitely leaves then I’ll have to work somewhere else.

Epicenter: What are you hoping to accomplish in the next year?

Cordova: My goal is to buy a house. To have a roof where I can live in peace. Instead of paying rent, I can pay for my house. That is my goal for the next year and the years ahead. And obviously as a lawyer too, I would like to study immigration, but after getting citizenship here. Those are my two goals, one day I will get it, I know one day I’ll accomplish it.

Epicenter: Were you able to receive federal help and/or help from the Excluded Workers Fund?

Cordova: I was able to get a $1,000 check from the Street Vendor Project. I didn’t apply for the Excluded Workers fund because I came [to the U.S.] right before March 27. I did not have proof of residence before the date, I only had my passport, but that was not enough.

Epicenter: Is there anything you need now that it is winter time?

Cordova: Oh, I definitely need some warm shoes and a long coat to protect me from the cold. Because I am going to have to stay here, there is nothing left to do.

Epicenter: International Street Vendor day is on Nov. 14, what do you want New Yorkers to know about street vendors?

Cordova: I would like them to know that street vending is decent work, and it is something that should be respected. We are just people who buy products and resell them on the street because we do not have a place. If the city would give us all a place where all the street vendors could go and sell their merchandise, that would be wonderful because being on the street is messy. Street vending is a way of life, we are not taking anything from anyone, we are not doing anything but earning our daily livelihood.

Epicenter: Any other updates/ways we can help you?

Cordova: I would like a different job. Well, I have a job but I know a lot about pharmacies, and I worked in that industry for 25 years. I have gone to the pharmacies and they ask ‘Do you have a work permit?’ ‘No.’ Do you have a Social Security number?’ ‘No.’ I have a resume, but they say without a permit I can’t work. There are so many big chains that I know need people to clean, organize, fix things—I know a lot about pharmacies, it is another career that I have done. It would be a dream to get. I would like to work at a pharmacy or maybe have one myself. I have so many ideas.

You can find Antonio Cordova in Queens at the corner of Junction Boulevard and Roosevelt Avenue. 

Photo: Andrea Pineda-Salgado / Epicenter NYC

Hani Waly 

Epicenter: How have you been doing since we last spoke?

Waly: I moved from Broadway to Wall Street. They are changing the tiles so they moved everybody. It is going to take a couple of months before we go back.

Epicenter: Has business gotten better?

Waly: One day up, one day down, one day up, one day down. You see people working this week, you see people coming to you every day for lunch. The next week [you don’t see the same people that came to you last week]. When I asked somebody about it they said, ‘Not all of us work. They let a certain percent go to work this week and they let others another week.’ For the past two weeks, business has been down. I don’t know why. Some people went back to work, but I think people are still scared to buy food from outside.

Epicenter: What are you hoping to accomplish in the next year/after the pandemic slows down?

Waly: I’m trying to be open, to do something else, a different job or different business. It is hard to get a different job because there’s not going to be money like the job I have now. I am never going to see a job like this one. This one is easy money. Now you have to be tight with your money. In the winter you don’t know if it is going to be very cold like last year, or if it will to be comfortable to work. I was thinking [about working] for Uber Eats. But if I know how to drive, I can do it because I can buy a car. But, I don’t know how to drive. So that’s a problem, and the bike is hard with this kind of cold weather.

Epicenter: Has the mandate and vaccine changed business?

Waly: No, but now people come to you without wearing a mask, but they get angry at you if you don’t wear the mask in the cart.

Epicenter: International Street Vendor day is on Nov. 14. What do you want New Yorkers to know about street vendors?

Waly: Street vendors are people that are working hard and they need their business to have some money. We need help, some kind of help, you know. Because we used to get unemployment to collect some money every week. Now they cut it off. You have to work by yourself, but paying rent is tough with this kind of job. But before you used to work and get some money from here and there and you were OK.

Epicenter: Any other updates/ways we can help you?

Waly: I would like money, like a little bit to help me with my work. It would help to start my own business. So I can stand on my feet, you know. I don’t need that much because I worked for many years in this kind of job on the street. But when you don’t make any money you get tired of this job.

You can find Haly Waly, in Manhattan between William Street and Wall Street.

Support and learn about vendors through a scavenger hunt scavenger hunt, register here. For more ways to get involved, visit The Street Vendor Project’s website

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