Don’t Stop the Pop!

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Recently, city leaders, including Mayor LaToya Cantrell, came under fire for announcing plans to crack down on pop-ups in the coming year.

The Mayor was not alone. Several members of the City Council have gone on record regarding concerns about pop-ups in their districts. Both Councilwoman Cyndi Nguyen and Councilwoman Kristin Palmer say they have heard complaints about unlicensed vendors setting up shop.

A pop-up is basically a vendor that opens in a space temporarily to promote and sell a product. Because of the temporary, almost transient nature of a pop-up, the vendor may or may not have all of the necessary paperwork required to operate. They also may or may not be paying sales taxes on their transactions.

In many cases, the pop-up business is a micro-business. Quite frankly, pop-up operators are a part of the rich history and culture of New Orleans for which New Orleans is known.

Think Rose Nicaud with her coffee cart selling a brew so good that her patrons were willing to stand and drink it.

Think all of the Black people—both free and enslaved—that gathered in Congo Square on Sundays, not only to bask in their cultural traditions but to trade and sell their wares. Real talk, if you got a problem with pop-ups in New Orleans then you got a problem with the very essence of this city.

As a matter of fact, how about we just think before we start targeting working-class folk for simply trying to make a dollar out of fifteen cents. With all of the tax breaks and concessions that government gives to big businesses and major corporations, why is that the little people are always being targeted?

Mayor Cantrell later clarified her position on the matter, detailing that the plan was not a “crackdown” at all, but rather an effort to “make sure that all businesses in the city are aligned with current guidelines and businesses are treated equally.”

Well, let’s talk about equality.

It is true that some pop-up vendors operate under the radar, don’t have permits or licenses, or pay sales taxes. But to us, it is ironic that the city leaders want to come down on these vendors for operating “under the radar” while not nearly enough is being done to help the many people from these same communities who live outside of the margins of society–earning too little money to even afford rent or utilities or groceries. Sometimes, the pop-up is designed to help fill in the gaps. And now, city leaders want to “crack down” on that.

This notion of treating all businesses “equally” will effectively shut these fledgling business owners down before they have a chance to realize their full potentials or it will just drive them out of plain view. Let’s face it, in the social media age–one can run a pop-up without technically popping up anywhere. And the result is the same for the city– zero sales tax revenue on the goods or services sold.

The reality is we can’t treat all the businesses in the city equally because all of the people in this city are not equal. Years of inequity have seen to that. The legacy and impact of redlining in Black communities and neighborhoods have seen to that. The historical lack of access to capital for Black entrepreneurs has seen to that. Persistent racial wage and wealth gaps caused by systemic racism have seen to that.

In many cases, the pop-up is the step up these aspiring business owners are taking in order to build the capacity they need to do bigger and better things, to get all of the permits and licenses, or to maybe one day move into a brick and mortar building.

Let’s not forget that Rose Nicaud started with a portable coffee cart across from a church before she was able to earn enough money to have a permanent stand in the French Market and offer her customers a place to sit.

So instead of talking about cracking down on pop-ups or whatever euphemism slant we want to out on it, how about putting a program in place that helps to guide these operators, that points them in the direction of resources so that they can build their capacity, their brands and their businesses? How about some equity?