Shutdown Hits Downtown Vets

| 02 Mar 2015 | 05:03

Vendors selling souvenirs near the Statue of Liberty have suffered a loss of business been since the government shutdown

On an average day, 10,000 visitors tour the Statue of Liberty. If the vendors lining the sidewalk along nearby Battery Place and State Street are lucky, a slice of those tourists leave with a souvenir to remember their visit: a green foam Statue of Liberty crown, a pair of sunglasses or an "I Heart NY" T-shirt.

But since last Tuesday, when the federal government shutdown closed all national parks, including the Statue of Liberty, vendors in the area said they are seeing fewer sales. And in New York City, where many of non-food vendors are disabled veterans, the financial hit could be coming from two sides.

"I probably won't be able to pay some of my bills," said Vincent Mack, 48, who sells New York City-themed clothing, like T-shirts and sweatshirts, on State Street across from the National Museum of the American Indian, also closed due to the federal government's shutdown.

"A lot of the vendors didn't even come out," said Mack, who also served in the U.S. Marines for two years.

Mack set up shop, he said, because his financial situation required showing up. "I've got to try. I'm living paycheck to paycheck, day to day," he said.

But for those vendors, like Mack, who tried to sell their wares on Wednesday, the payout wasn't looking good by midday.

Robin Riddick, 53, set up her table of sunglasses, $5 a pair, on Battery Place at 10 a.m. At noon, she counted $60 in her pocket. On a similar day last year, Riddick said, she would have walked home with $125.

The first day of the statue's shutdown, she said, she made only $36.

"What can $36 do? $36 is coffee in New York City," said Riddick. "If it's going to be like this for the entire month, I can't pay my rent."

Riddick, who said she received honorable discharge from the U.S. Army after six years of service, is among the nearly 3,000 licensed non-food street vendors in the city, and among the nearly 2,000 of those who are disabled veterans. According to state law, veterans in a city of more than one million residents are given preference over non-veterans when being issued vendor licenses.

The vendors also risk losing veteran benefits if the shutdown drags on. A memo on the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs website stated that the federal agency has enough funds to provide compensation to its veterans through October. But if the federal shutdown that persists beyond Oct. 31, the site warned, funds could be suspended.

Mack has a scar several vertical inches long on his left knee, a reminder of the injury that led to his honorable discharge in 1992. He receives $200 a month as veteran's compensation.

By 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Mack had only made $5 ? one man purchased a hat from the top of a double-decker tour bus. On an average day, Mack said, he pulls in $400.

Despite the lagging sales, he and his fellow salesmen attended to customers.

"I'm desperate," Mack said. "I want to keep my apartment."