NYC’s coffee-cart woes spur $2 million Morgan Stanley grant

As Morgan Stanley’s bankers scattered from Manhattan’s Times Square to their home offices during the pandemic, some asked, How are the coffee-cart vendors doing?

The answer: terribly. Earnings for New York’s iconic street vendors have plunged as much as 90% during the coronavirus outbreak. So the bank is giving $2 million to 2,000 vendors in coordination with the Robin Hood foundation, which is contributing $375,000 more and will work with the Street Vendor Project of the Urban Justice Center to distribute the cash.

The funds are aimed at helping the largely minority- and immigrant-run businesses that have been left out of government stimulus programs because they don’t qualify for employee or small-business relief. There are about 20,000 vendors selling food and merchandise on sidewalks throughout New York who embody the city’s image in films and on television.

“It wasn’t just our coffee-cart people — it was the vendors all across the city” facing hardship, Joan Steinberg, president of the Morgan Stanley Foundation, said in an interview. She’s calling on other corporations and individuals to follow suit and help the city’s quintessential businesses. “When I was little, I used to beg my parents to buy me a hot dog or one of those giant pretzels. It’s just very classic New York.”

The thousands of street vendors contribute an estimated $293 million annually to the city’s economy, according to a statement from Morgan Stanley and Robin Hood. As federal and state governments enacted unprecedented emergency stimulus programs, about three-fourths of vendors were excluded from disaster relief or unemployment insurance, often because of their immigration status or the informal nature of their work.

“These are people who we know and we see every single day —
people who are just trying to forge a way for both themselves and for their children,” said Wes Moore, Robin Hood’s CEO.

Vendors have resorted to borrowing money, drawing down savings, seeking help from friends and family or pawning belongings to cover expenses including permits and garage rentals. And almost one in four vendors reported having household members with COVID-19 or symptoms of the virus, Morgan Stanley and Robin Hood said.

“Vendors come from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mohamed Attia, director of the Street Vendor Project, who sold food and drinks as a vendor for almost a decade, said in the statement. “They have lost the majority of their income during the pandemic, and despite their critical role in our city’s culture and economy, every level of government has left them out in the cold.”


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