Exploring safe vending and entrepreneurial options for the Waterboys
It has been seven years since the street vendors have been cleared from the Atlanta streets. No umbrellas, no Falcons, Braves, or Hawks shirts. No sodas, no fresh fruit, no candy, no snacks, no homemade jewelry, and no bottled water. There used to be a time when you can go to places like Five Points, the West End, Ashby Street (Joseph E. Lowery), and Summer Hill along Capitol Ave to find a street vendor. But now… All is gone.
After being prevented from operating their vending business in 2012, vendors sued the city of Atlanta to have their vending permits reinstated. A Fulton County judge ruled that the city of Atlanta’s move to stop the street vendors was unconstitutional, but the city did not reinstate permits. The City of Atlanta replaced the traditional street vending of regular tables and chairs with a plan to use green structures that vendors could rent for a designated amount of $1,200 to $1,600 a month.
Several years later, the majority of those green structures are unoccupied. The structures have become a public display for vandalism, trash, and homeless occupation. The structures have not done anything to help street vending within the city of Atlanta but have done a lot more to destroy the vending market.
But now in 2020, throughout Atlanta, we have seen an influx of Black teens selling bottled water. These teenagers are reported everywhere: major roadways, intersections, train stations, mall entrances, and etc. There have been complaints of these teens being too aggressive with their sales approach causing traffic jams, throwing water bottles at by-passers, and more.
The city of Atlanta has expressed concerns about the “waterboys” throughout the city and is seeking options to help embrace their entrepreneurial activities in a safe environment.
So we got in contact with the mayor’s office with a few questions. Michael Smith of the mayor’s office of communication responded back to us with some background information to our questions.
A.T.L. Webmag: What are the plans for the green vending booths that are along Peachtree? We counted 12 booths and only 3 are in operation, and a couple of are in bad condition due to graffiti and noticeable
Michael Smith (Mayor’s Office of Communication Press Secretary): The public vending program for the City of Atlanta is currently under a proposed restructuring. Under the City’s Code of Ordinance (Section 30, Article XXVIII), operators of the kiosks are assigned through a lottery process. Once awarded, vendors may continue to renew permits to operate out of the kiosks annually. This process has proven to be unsuccessful, given there are very few operating standards provided under the current code and several limitations as to what can be sold. To eliminate these constraints, the City’s Department of City Planning has pending proposed changes to the vending code. In doing so, the City will have a better ability to generate economic activity around the kiosks in the downtown area.
There are approximately 12 registered operators for the kiosks program. Our engagement with these businesses has provided some insight on the economic impact of COVID-19 on the operators. In short, these businesses rely on foot traffic from GSU students and the hotel and convention industry currently affected by the pandemic. As a result, a number of these businesses are shuttered. Likewise, the condition of the kiosks is also under consideration from the Department. Funding constraints have presented challenges around upkeep and a number of the kiosks have been vandalized. Through the proposed changes to the program, the City will be able to better address these concerns. Other assistance needed to sustain the kiosk program includes microenterprise technical assistance to current and future vendors.
A.T.L. Webmag: Since banning the traditional street vending from the downtown area and implementing the green vending booths, what is the outcome of the program? Has the program been successful or a failure?
Michael Smith (Mayor’s Office of Communication Press Secretary): Lessons learned are largely reflected in the City’s desire to improve the kiosk vending program. The lottery system has been ineffective due to:
- Businesses unable to operate under standardized operating hours
- Limitations under the code that do no promote sustainable economic activity
- Crowding of the kiosks largely concentrated in a small downtown footprint
- Operators needing assistance to improve long-term success
With the upcoming changes to the legislation, the City anticipates seeing greater efficiency within the program that will:
- Provide new and more diversified opportunities for vending to take place in the ROW
- Create operating standards that ensure greater utilization of the kiosks
- Establish resources for business training opportunities that assist small/startup businesses in developing and building capacity.
A.T.L. Webmag: Has the mayor/City of Atlanta consider (or will consider) starting an entrepreneurship program for the Atlanta Waterboys? Since majority of the booths are not in operation and to prevent them from continuing to look like eye sores, use the booths to allow the kids to sell more than just water, but snacks as well. Teach them how to manage money, learn about inventory and the upkeep of a business. Perhaps have business students from GSU help manage it. Help the kids make a little money while learning to be entrepreneurs in a controlled environment.
Michael Smith (Mayor’s Office of Communication Press Secretary):
The Mayor’s latest actions on this matter can be found at the following links: