The Business of Street Vending

By Eric Hammer

Street vending, i.e. selling things on the street, is a popular business, though it's not one which is particularly well paid. The advantage is that the barrier to entry is pretty low. You'll need to get a license from your city or county to engage in street selling (unless you want to constantly fear confiscation of your goods by the police, not to mention arrest and prosecution – this is why some New York City street vendors will pack out in a hurry when they spot a cop down the block. In New York, it is virtually impossible to get a license as a street vendor for anything other than food.). You'll also have to scope out a corner to sell on which has good street traffic because you are unlikely to get much in the way of word of mouth sales.

If you plan on running a street based food operation, like a hot dog stand or a truck which sells sandwiches, you will also need to apply for a food handling license, which can cost more and require more training than simply selling dry goods (i.e. anything and everything which is not food – clothing, purses, nick knacks and the like). In addition, those choosing to sell food on the street will be subject to inspection by the health department on a regular basis.

However, for all that it's no glamour job, street vending is a business which attracts thousands of people to it every year and which is particularly popular amongst immigrant populations and in large cities like New York and Los Angeles.

How Much Can You Make?

The amount of money you'll make as a street vendor is largely up to you. It depends on what it is you sell, how many hours you are willing to work a day, where you set up your street vending business and how much competition there is. Don't expect it to be a get rich quick scheme, but do expect it to provide a living. It's not completely unheard of for street vendors to take in high five figure gross salaries if they work hard and have a certain amount of luck, though you should expect your initial wages to be lower. Also, realistically, you shouldn't expect to earn much more than you might at working any other unskilled labor job, in other words, a living, though nothing special (think anywhere from $15,000-$30,000 a year if you work really hard).

Ways to Make More | Related Opportunities | Tips

No matter what product you are hawking in your street vending business, there are always other things you can branch off into. Selling hot dogs out of a hot dog cart? Consider adding hot pretzels ala New York City. Selling women's purses? Try adding in some wallets for the men who pass by. You can also get extra cash by helping other street vendors to get established, both by being a middle man who sells them their goods and by offering training.

Keep in mind that you are running a service business and your advertising is your smile and your personality. If you are running a food business, make sure you have that extra flourish which will make people want to buy their food from you and not from the competition down the block. If you are selling dry goods, put on a show for people. Make yourself memorable and get your customers to smile and laugh while they're purchasing your products. You'll get more repeat customers that way.

Also, consider the possibility of street vending outside of sports arenas. When the Yankees are playing in the Bronx for example, dozens of street vendors set up shop to hawk Yankees memorabilia for several blocks on either side of the stadium.

Another way to earn money from the street vending business without actually getting involved in standing around on street corners is to be a supplier. You can arrange to import dry goods directly from the manufacturer in China and then resell them at a profit to street vendors who then turn around and sell them to the public.

Qualifications / Requirements

The biggest challenge you will face by far in getting into the street vending business is getting the necessary licenses. You may need to provide proof that the business owners you plan to set up shop in front of are willing to have your business established there. You may also need to provide proof of where your merchandise is coming from (don't forget that street vendors are common places to find counterfeit and or stolen goods – if you plan to get a license, you'll need to document where your merchandise is coming from and that it's legitimate. If you don't plan to get a license, be prepared to lose your entire stock and possibly earn a fat fine every time a cop spots you and you're not able to clear out quickly enough). Other than that, there are no formal requirements. You just need to be willing to work hard and to have a winning personality that gets people to keep coming back to you for more.

First Steps

Spend some time scouting out likely locations for your street vending business. Pay particular attention to foot traffic patterns as most of your business will be based on people walking by, not on repeat business.


Becoming a Street Vendor - Some information article on how to get started.

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Every Way to Make Money | The Business of Street Vending