Posted by: Jeffsayyes | August 7, 2014

Tamale Vendors Equipment Confiscated (Video)

In case you’ve never seen it, here it is:

It was my first time. For myself, I’ve only heard about it.

Yesterday on 82nd Street just south of Roosevelt Avenue, two tamale ladies had their equipment seized by the police. The vendors are ones that typically set up in this location, until they are approached by police. Usually they get tickets, and both the police and the vendors go on their way. This time, it was a harsher penalty, and a more demonstrative one.

This day seemed to be a sweep of the area by police, as they later gave a ticket to a publicly drunken man down the street and back at the 74th street station, I saw a candy dealer busted. I also noticed that some other usual unpermitted (but not unlicensed) food dealers weren’t operating as well (I can only speculate what happened to them).

This was the first time I’d actually seen the equipment getting taken away. I’d heard they might do this every 3 months or so. Usually the ladies just get tickets and that’s all. I am not sure if they are directed by captains that “today’s the day” or what. I’ve also been told by one of the ladies in the video that she has been to jail overnight for the same offense.

As I witnessed on this date, the police were cordial, and even apologetic. This is in contrast to many other confrontations I have been witness to, where the officers dealt with the language barrier by treating it as a veil to grey-area morals. On this date, the police were helpful in translating the necessary information to the vendors.

In this video, the police can be seen putting all the food in garbage bags and taking their equipment. As I understand it, the ladies will have to pay a fee and then be able to pick up their equipment at the station or other facility.

I’m not sure what can be done about the situation. These particular ladies are operating in a highly trafficked area because of the amount of business in that area. This visibility also makes it the most controversial. It is a part of doing business, it’s understood and unfortunate. Street vendors have been on the right side of the people and the wrong side of the authorities for over 300 years in New York City. As I see people from other cities celebrate their smallest entrepreneurs, it feels unfair to describe how difficult the city makes it for our vendors here in NYC. As the newest dream of our leadership is to fight the Tale of Two Cities, I don’t see why anyone who wants to work is not able to. The contributors to the public well-being should be praised for it. Those contributors should be our food vendors and our police officers.


As someone who brings tourists to the area frequently (on the “Midnight” crawl), I get asked questions about crime in the area all the time. I tell them how it’s a family area, with constant flow of people under the trains which keeps the majority safe. I tell them about drunk people getting loose on the streets, but also gangs and prostitution which aren’t visible if you aren’t involved. I have never thought about the tamale vendors as crime, and no one has ever suggested it. The fact is, when you are measured by numbers and you can choose between drug dealers and tamale ladies, who is easier to ticket? People involved with more obvious crimes such as illegal drugs, prostitution, car theft and violence are more likely to run, be armed with knives, or be willing to fight. A tamale lady won’t run, is never armed, and usually stands no more than 5 foot 2 inches. Later, when telling about what you do at work to your family, it might be uncomfortable to tell your children that the crime is women selling $1 tamales, but at least you’ll be able to tell it when you’re home safe. And when your job is to stay up all night to cook for masses of people getting off the 7-train, the children might wonder why you spent the night in jail or all your equipment is gone.


  1. I dont disagree with you at all and, as a patron of “street food” since the early days of the Red Hook Ballfields in Brooklyn, I really want vendors in my city. However, you’ve left out the 3rd variable in the equation, and that’s the rent paying businesses on the street. It may not be a simple matter of NYC Govt/Police Dept vs. street vendors as, in some cases, complaints are made by the storefront businesses that street vendors are unfair competition, not bound by the same real estate costs, taxes, health inspections & other expenses that they pay and then have to pass on in their prices. I’m not saying that this is the case on Roosevelt Ave., but it might be worth a look to see if complaints have been made by the BID, individual food merchants and/or others. If so, some mediation might well work toward resolving the problem.

    • Must agree w/jeffsayyes that police are going after the easy targets, the ones that generate $$$ for the city. As a policing tactic, it is petty and cowardly. To SteveR., I have been fed breakfast by my Tamale Lady at 74th and Roosevelt since I moved to NY in 2007. If she were driven away by city, I would still not buy from any restaurant on Roosevelt because it takes too long, costs much more, and wouldn’t be as good. Home-made tamales: yum!

    • Great points. As far as the other players go, street vending crackdowns (just like basically anything else in the world) are a case of “the wheel that squeaks gets the grease.” Great spots for vendors are areas that oppose a brick wall instead of a store front, also you’ll notice that there are some popular sections for unpermitted vendors just off Roosevelt in Corona. This is just like privacy for your home. It suuuuucks to have neighbors that complain all the time – whether or not you are doing right, if someone complains, the authorities will probably check in on you and find something —- That is why my dream house in the area is on a dead end on 71st Street….

      If anyone complains about a vendor, they are probably going to get a visit from the police or health department. I know there are businesses on that street that do not like them, ones that do like them, and ones that do not care – but the fact is that the ones that complain will cause an authority to give them a visit. Also, yes the BID is an advocate for the businesses on the street, so if they complain, the BID will respond and use their resources to discourage them. As you know, I have had a good relationship with the BID, and while it does dishearten me to hear some conflicts of interest, they have definitely made efforts to find a solution to all of this (whether or not anything happens, I do not know).

      COSTS: The permitted vendors with trucks and carts definitely have a ton of expenses. Consider the going rate for a permit is 24k$/2 years, but also how expensive it is to get the vehicle, plus the same health department visits. Yes, it is a smaller expense type of doing business, but there still is quite a bit. It’s no wonder that you see what’s popular in food trucks being less and less street vending, and moreso operating food stands and catering. This is why you see so much turnover for street vendors now, because most people who are born in the US probably aren’t comfortable with making that little amount of money.

      For the non-permitted ones, they do not have as much costs, but selling $1 tamales does not add up to much for them, but also it’s a quick, fresh food that most restaurants are not competing with (On that street, I think only the Colombian place on the corner sells food on the street).

      We talk about this on the tour all the time. I should curtail this b/c I’m at work!
      Keep the thoughts and questions coming. -Jeff

      • They need to get veterans to sit by them like the carts do by the Met museum. I don’t mind the vendors but I do know they can make a ton of money. They can easily make more than 100/hr, most of the time, much much more. This type of cash business will pay little to no taxes.

        There is an unlicensed fruit truck that parks near Walgreens on Broadway and those people will make $4000+ a day easily, especially during rush hours.. 4 to 9, that place is just mobbed with people buying fruits & veggies.

        This is how some of these people will make it in America and I don’t mind it at all. All our ancestors did a version of this.

        It’s also nice to see the cops being decent. They are just following orders.

  2. Next thing you’ll be hearing about tamale ladies in choke holds.

  3. They were probably “decent” because they saw people and a phone out. As the daughter of a street vendor on Roosevelt and Junction I can say most of the officers are mean. Especially to people that do not know English or their rights. Those complaints on 82nd St were mostly likely done by the BID, although recently they have been stating they want to “work” with the street vendors (BIDS around NYC has shown they do not work well with street vendors).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *