City, Aramark, other vendors at odds over ‘Francis Festival’ sales

 LaVerne McNear has been a Center City street vendor since 1968. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

LaVerne McNear has been a Center City street vendor since 1968. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

By now, you’ve probably heard that Pope Francis will be in Philadelphia this weekend and that, during his visit, traffic restrictions comprising the “traffic box” will be in force in Center City, from South Street to Girard Avenue, river to river, and into parts of University City.

For more than two days, driving inside the “Francis Festival Zone” essentially will be prohibited. So too, however, will be peddling merchandise if you’re not on Aramark’s vending list, according to city officials.

This restriction obviously applies to unlicensed street vendors, but also entrepreneurs who are registered and have paid for a vending license that covers Center City.

“It’s a matter of public safety. If they can’t get supplies, they’re not really going to be able to do much good vending. And we certainly don’t want them bringing food in and having it on the street or someplace else,” said Ralph DiPietro, a deputy commissioner with the city’s department of  Licenses and Inspections.

If caught by inspectors, DiPietro said, licensed vendors who weren’t vetted would first be asked to move their operation outside of the traffic box.

For Jabir Rahman, that’s a slap in the face.

He owns Pimp My Tee Philly near South Street and plans to wholesale his custom pope design to street vendors.

“They turned their back on them for the bigger corporations. That’s what they did. So the little guys get nothing, and the big guys get everything,” said Rahman.

Rahman is also upset his design won’t get the attention he thinks it should.

“I did a special rhinestone portrait of Pope Francis in the forefront with the Love Park, City Hall and Art Museum in rhinestone in the background,” he said.

An Aramark representative could not provide an estimate for projected retail profits, but said he “expects sales of commemorative items to be steady through the end of the papal visit.”

The spokesman also disputed the city’s take, saying Aramark’s vendors have exclusive rights only inside the security fence.

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