Flower vendors may be forced off streets

February 26, 2008 7:06:52 AM PST
A century-old tradition in San Francisco could be turned upside down.

A century-old tradition in San Francisco could be turned upside down. Vendors who sell flowers on the sidewalks could face a new set of rules that may put them out of business.

If you've been to Union Square, chances are you've seen 86 year old Al Nalbandian. His flower stand has been on the corner next to Macy's for more than half a century.

"It's the pride of our life, the pride of our families. It's a tradition," says Nalbandian.

The history of San Francisco's flower stands goes back to 1904. For the most part, the sidewalk operations have been handed down from generation to generation. However, Supervisor Jake McGoldrick says it's time for that practice to end.

"This belief that you can pass it on to heirs. You can't pass on public property for private gain. It's public property," says McGoldrick.

Salamon Murdoch's spot outside Neiman Marcus has been in his family for 45 years. His father passed it on to him.

"Honestly, I don't think anybody else would take the flower stands after being in the family. You have to be groomed to do this," says Murdoch.

Supervisor McGoldrick believes that opportunity should be open to everyone. Vendors currently pay about $750 dollars a year for a permit. McGoldrick says he discovered cases where operators were selling them.

"You don't go and sell a piece of public land for up to $100,000 dollars. It doesn't belong to you. It belongs to the people of San Francisco."

McGoldrick is proposing five year limits on permits, and when the term is up, there would be a lottery. The current vendors would be grandfathered in and could pass on their business to spouses or domestic partners, but not their children.

"That's a little hard to believe. I think it's wrong," says Patricia Lee, flower vendor.

Patricia Lee is one of those who bought a permit a few years ago. Now, she says she's really worried about what will happen. The supervisor has made some adjustments to his legislation. For example, he originally wanted the permits to be for just two years, but now it's five. This is far from a done deal. There will be another hearing in three weeks and then the full board will weigh in.