On most weekdays, Edward Sarian sets up his hot dog cart on Rosedale Avenue, next to the parking lot for the state Department of Motor Vehicle offices in Glendale. There, for about seven hours a day, he sells frankfurters, soda pop, potato chips and candy to people battling the state bureaucracy for a driver's license or an auto registration.
Sarian, 45, says he grosses about $55 a day, maybe $10 more if exceptionally busy. It's not a way to get rich and it's not a glamorous career. But Sarian, an immigrant from Soviet Armenia with two teen-age children, says his lack of fluency in English prevents him from getting most other jobs. And, he insists: "I don't want to go on welfare."
Just down the block, in a small deli-liquor store at Glenoaks Boulevard, another immigrant family is trying to make a living. They, however, see Sarian as a threat and wish he would find another job, or at least move his cart to a different neighborhood.
The Taiwanese-born owners of the Cavalier Liquor store claim that they have lost about $100 a day in business since the hot dog stand appeared on the street a few months ago. In response, they have bought a $500 hot dog rotisserie and put a neon sign in their window announcing the sale of hot dogs inside. What's more, they have written a letter to the City Council protesting that they pay $900 a month rent and high utilities, while the hot dog stand gets free use of the sidewalk.
"It's hard to survive even without competition. You have to work long hours," said Tzuoh Hsu, who owns the store with his two brothers-in-law. "But this is unfair competition and is a threat to our existence."
In response, Sarian says: "Their rent is not my fault."
The City Council, however, appears to be listening to Hsu.
Glendale does not have so many street peddlers that it resembles Venice Beach or New York's Greenwich Village. But numbers have dramatically increased recently--from a handful last year to about 50 now, said City Clerk Merle Hagemayer, who issues permits for them. "All of a sudden, it just took off," he said.
That is enough, officials say, to warrant some kind of a crackdown--particularly since many street vendors concede that they have come to Glendale because few limitations against them are on the books there. So, at the direction of the council, the city manager's office is preparing an ordinance that will restrict or ban pushcarts like Sarian's and motorized vendors, such as the man who sells enormous stuffed animals from the roof of his van.
"Heavens, in the last few months we have gone from having one pushcart occasionally wandering aimlessly around the city to the point where we now have jurisdictional and territorial wars over who will get a particular corner," said Councilwoman Ginger Bremberg, who has been pushing for the restrictions.
'Would Like to Ban Them'
"I really would like to ban them and I feel quite strongly about it," she said. "They contribute little in taxes or civic participation. I feel they can pay their rent in a building and take their chances just like anyone else."
As for arguments that street vendors add pep and convenience to downtown, she said: "It's true that any peddler is colorful. But there are other ways you can make your streetscape colorful."
Councilman Larry Zarian agrees. He said he has seen hot dog vendors dumping waste water and relish on sidewalks. "The taxpayer in this community is not only not benefiting from them, but he is going to have to pay for someone to clean up the mess they leave behind," he said. "Free enterprise recognizes civic responsibility.
"At first, it's cute to have two or three people selling hot dogs. But now it's getting out of hand. And the next thing you know, we'll have people selling shoes and clothes from the street."
Vendors, however, insist they are collecting and paying sales tax. They say the move for further regulation is spurred by the jealousy of restaurateurs who, they claim, only want to limit free competition. A market or restaurant may have high rent, but vendors say they too have their investments to protect: The carts, complete with propane heaters and ice chests, can cost about $3,000.
Besides, vendors say, they offer a public service: a good, quick, cheap meal. "My customers are different from the ones who go to a restaurant," said Pashar Satoot, 26, an immigrant from Syria who usually hawks hot dogs from his homemade stand at the southeast corner of Brand Boulevard and Broadway. "My customers are working people, people in a hurry. I don't think that anybody who is making $35 a day is going to spend $4 on lunch and a tip in a restaurant." His hot dogs cost $1.35, plus 15 cents for cheese, chili, or sauerkraut.