When the Boston Red Sox invite a limited number of fans back to Fenway Park on April 1 for the first home game of the season, one thing will be missing: the pushcarts that sell peanuts, hot dogs, and sausages on the street.
Fenway Park street vendors received an e-mail on Friday from the permitting office of the Boston Public Works Department, informing them they can’t reopen until at least June.
“The city has decided that they will place vending at Fenway Park on hold for the next two months due to COVID concerns,” said the e-mail, which was shared with the Globe. “The city will revisit that decision in June and decide at that time the safety of opening Fenway vending activities with COVID guidelines for customer distancing.”
The news came as a surprise to the vendors, who had already submitted their paperwork to the city and the Red Sox, under the impression that they would be allowed to reopen when the stadium does. Many vendors who spoke to the Globe requested that their names not be used, due to fear of retaliation.
“It was a sad weekend [for the vendors],” said one sausage seller. “None of us slept and we were calling each other.... We were a mess.”
Longtime pushcart owner Nick Jacobs, known as Nicky Peanuts, said he and other vendors have questions about the city’s motive.
“I would like to know where the orders came from, and who pushed the envelope,” he said. “Everybody is trying to make a buck.... We have a right to make a buck, too.”
Harry Pateres, the owner of Sausage Connection, said he already installed plexiglass barriers on portions of his pushcart, leaving a small window for passing out sandwiches. Pateres has been working outside the stadium since 1978, and the Friday e-mail gave him an insecure feeling, since the vendors have had problems with operating in the past.
“Come June they could say we can’t be here,” he said. “That is a big problem.... The fans will be upset.”
Street vendors remember an effort made more than 20 years ago to push them out. The previous owners of the Red Sox did not want outside sellers on the street, citing public health and safety concerns. The vendors believe the issue was rooted in pushcarts taking business from the ballpark. (The Red Sox are now owned by Fenway Sports Group and John Henry, who also owns the Boston Globe.)
“I’m shocked that this is happening,” said local attorney Glen Hannington, who represented the vendors back in 1998. “[The vendors] are very upset over this, and I do not blame them.”
Hannington said then-mayor Tom Menino stepped in and orchestrated a last-minute deal for the street vendors, which kept the group of pushcart owners from seeking legal action. If last week’s decision is not overturned, Hannington said, he has been authorized by a certain number of vendors to seek legal action, although he declined to disclose who it would be against.
Hannington said in an interview at 7:00 p.m. that “based on information received late in the day, it looks like there will be a possible resolution,” although he declined to elaborate further. The City of Boston and the permitting office of the Boston Public Works Department did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.
The Red Sox said in a statement that they were “made aware of the city’s decision last week and plan to follow the guidance they have provided.”
Several vendors said they think it is unfair that nearby restaurants outside of the ballpark will still be able to use the streets surrounding the ballpark for outdoor dining.
“It feels like we are always kicked to the curb, like our jobs do not matter,” Jacobs said. “All of the restaurants in Boston are open, restrictions are getting relaxed, but we are getting the boot?”
Pateres said he’s all for outdoor dining if it helps the restaurants near Fenway, but not if “it is at our expense.”
“If it is in our location, that is not fair,” he said.
One sausage vendor said the sellers “feel helpless” and are “just trying to survive, too.”
Hannington said that there are now fewer than 10 street vendors outside Fenway Park, down from a few dozen 20 years ago.
“They are hard-working men and women,” Hannington said. “They have done everything proper. They filed for their health permits, got their applications in... then they get blindsided by this e-mail.”