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Las Vegas street vendors say legal process is costly, long, confusing

Customers wait their turn at a hot dog and shish kebab stand on the corner of Sixth Avenue and West 14th Street in New York Wednesday Oct. 31, 2012.
Tina Fineberg
FR73987 AP
Customers wait their turn at a hot dog and shish kebab stand on the corner of Sixth Avenue and West 14th Street in New York Wednesday Oct. 31, 2012.

The rainbow colored umbrella; that occasional clown horn in the distance.

If you’ve lived in Las Vegas for any amount of time, you know that can mean a sidewalk vendor is nearby.

Vendors sell a variety of Mexican street snacks like elote (Mexican street corn), chicharrones (Mexican chips), or raspados (flavored shaved ice).

But for decades, these vendors have operated without licensing or permits, running the risk of running afoul of Clark County or the Southern Nevada Health District.

But that’s changing.

Clark County commissioners passed an ordinance in April that gives vendors a pathway toward licensure. Questions have arisen about the cost and requirements, especially in following public health guidelines.

A license with the state, county, and a health department permit application fee will run vendors about $1,250 dollars. After that, the yearly fees are about $726 dollars.

In addition, the Southern Nevada Health District requires vendor carts to be no more than 25 square feet; they need running water; they have to be able to cook on site; and they need restaurant-grade equipment.

Local sidewalk vendor Alexander, who KNPR chose not to disclose his last name because he’s undocumented, is unsure how he’ll cook his Mexican street corn on his bicycle cart.

“Part of it seems excessive,” Alexander said. “I have to be able to push it across the streets. How am I going to have a burner or carry a tank of gas around? That would be kind of impossible.”

In a recent Clark County workshop aimed at helping current and prospective vendors, Lynda Castro and her mother, Nalida, said the new requirements might end their plans to start a business selling tamales.

“Just because of all the requirements,” Castro said. “I feel like the scarier one would be the health department cause if they say no, they say no.”

Larry Rogers, environmental health manager for the Southern Nevada Health District, said it will work with vendors on a case by case basis.

“We don't do this a lot, but I think with the sidewalk vendors, we are trying to lower the barrier to entrance,” he added. “We would allow them to do a makeshift hand wash sink with a small igloo cooler to catch the water as they wash it …but most importantly, they're going to have to protect food safety.”

If vendors violate the rules, the Health District has the authority to destroy the vendors goods on site.

Vendors also have concerns beyond fees and health inspections.

The new rules say they can’t be within 1,500 feet of a resort hotel, 500 feet of a county park or school up to 30 minutes after class ends, or within 150 feet of another sidewalk vendor, a restaurant. A violation means they can be fined up to $500 or serve up to six months in jail.

This was probably the biggest disappointment to a local fruit cocktail vendor we’ll call Caesar. He’s also undocumented and asked us to maintain his anonymity. Even so, he will “respect and follow the guidelines; we’re satisfied with what they allow us.”

Alexander agrees.

“I can’t put myself against the law, it’s my business,” he said.

“We are here to work and keep going. We shouldn’t give up,” Caesar said.

The Southern Nevada Health District has approved one applicant since the rules were adopted in April.

Guests: Larry Rogers, environmental health manager, Southern Nevada Health District; Alexander, sidewalk vendor; Caesar, sidewalk vendor

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Christopher Alvarez is a news producer and podcast audio editor at Nevada Public Radio for the State of Nevada program, and has been with them for over a year.
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