NYC Street Vendors Slowly Return but It's Not Business as Usual

NBCUniversal, Inc.

More food carts and street vendors are popping up across New York City as the rate of coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths slowly decline.

The membership-based organization Street Vendor Project has estimated that of 20,000 street vendors across the city, 90% had shut down their business completely since the start of the outbreak in March. But with the warmer weather, and perhaps cabin fever, more people are hitting the pavements.

It's a gradual improvement but vendors who recently reopened like Jerry Mara of Lil Zeus Lunch Box, a Greek food truck located in Midtown Manhattan, say business is nowhere near what it was before.

"We're just trying it out because no one's out here. We're just losing money at this point but we're hoping people come back," Mara told NBC New York.

The feeling is mutual, according to many essential workers who rely on street vendors for coffee, lunch and snacks.

"I have to make my own lunch and that didn't come out too good," said George Giannikouris, an essential worker in Midtown.

Some of the first food carts to reappear have near parks and although the familiar jingle of Mister Softee echoed around the blocks, it's not business as usual.

Like many other vendors, the ice cream trucks took a short break and have returned with new policies to ensure the safety of its employees and customers.

"I've seen people adapting to the new system already for the past couple of months. We've seen the vendors have places cones and tapes around their cart to make sure the customers don't get to close to the vendor," said Mohamed Attia of the Street Vendor Project.

In addition to following social distancing rules and wearing gloves and masks, Mister Softee truck drivers' temperatures are screened every day and they're required to periodically disinfect the vehicle's surfaces throughout the day, according to the company.

While they're safely back on the streets, the vendors say they're going to need a lot more customers to actually survive the shutdown.

"There'd be tourists right now, 150 to 200 of them walking past us as we speak," ice cream truck owner Christos Papagiannopoulos told NBC New York as he stood on the corner of 79th Street and Fifth Avenue. But as of Tuesday, he says he was there for three hours and he had not made $20.

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