For the first time in more than 25 years, Larry Miller was not active at Turner Field for Opening Day.
The longtime vendor and dozens of his colleagues are still at odds with the city about whether or not they will ever be allowed to set up shop and sell their wares around Turner Field. The city, whose plan for a new policy was rejected by a judge last year, put a hold on issuing permits until it decides what’s next.
At Monday’s Braves home opener against the Philadelphia Phillies, the areas and parking lots around the stadium were decidedly vendor-free.
“What does this say about an international city that is supposed to be too busy to hate? They shut us down with no warning or nothing,” Miller said. “This was the biggest day we were going to have at Turner Field, with it being Opening Day and Chipper Jones throwing out the first pitch. And they shut us down.”
Opening Days were made for days like Monday. The afternoon weather was light and breezy and the sun was bright. As early as noon, Braves fans started making their way to Turner Field to see the team that everyone expects to compete this year.
But for all of the Braves’ optimism, Monday also marked a key date in the ongoing battle between the city of Atlanta and local vendors.
Last year, city officials turned over the management of street vending to an outside corporation, General Growth. All independent vendors would have to go through and pay General Growth a fee to operate. It was an effort to bring order to the sometimes-chaotic street vending scene to make it run more like a business with regular hours and prices.
In December, a Fulton County judge struck down the plan. But until a new policy is created for the vending program, city officials directed Atlanta police not to renew licenses for vendors across the city. No permits have been issued for 2013.
“There is no current ordinance allowing these sales on public property,” city Chief Operating Officer Duriya Farooqui said last week after the city starting enforcing the vending permits. “However, we are looking at best practices around public property vending in cities of comparable size to determine what, if any, such program or ordinance would be best suited for Atlanta.”
Last week — in anticipation of Opening Day and the Final Four — the Atlanta Police Department took steps to enforce the prohibition with a crackdown on vendors around Five Points, Barbara Asher Square, Woodruff Park, Baker Street, Lee Street, the West End and around Turner Field.
“This crackdown is being done out of spite, because the city was told they couldn’t hand over street vending to a multibillion-dollar corporation,” said Robert Frommer, a Virginia-based attorney who represents Miller. “The city is responding by implementing a scorched-earth policy by now saying that street vending is illegal.”
Frommer said when several vendors arrived at Turner Field early Monday to begin setting up, they were told by police officers that they could be fined, arrested or jailed if they continued.
On Tuesday in a parking lot outside the Georgia Dome, the newly formed Atlanta Vendors Association and the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm, will host a news conference to announce a campaign that they say will save vending in Atlanta.
Miller, who works around 100 days a year vending at Braves and Atlanta Falcons games, said he has already spent more than $5,000 on hats, jerseys, T-shirts, bats and balls in preparation for the start of the season.
Now, all of that stuff, like Miller, sits idle.
“How can we spend a billion dollars to open a new stadium for the Falcons, then turn around and shut down all the small businesses?” Miller asked. “What is really going on here?”