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Moustafa Hassan used to work the hot-dog stand along the sidewalk in front of the Riggs Bank at the corner of 15th and L Streets NW.
On Friday, May 30, Hassan was tending a booth there once againonly this time, he was shooing away would-be buyers.
“We’re closed,” announced Hassan, standing on the sidewalk, when passers-by approached the booth. “Have a nice weekend.”
Hassan was making an impromtu return to the sidewalk biz. He had just gotten off work and was headed to a local gym when he witnessed D.C. police arresting the current vendor, Mostafa Mohmoo Mohamed, shortly before 5 p.m. The charge, according to police records: vending without a license.
When the police cruiser sped off, with a handcuffed Mohamed in the backseat, the hot-dog stand was left unattended. So Hassan volunteered to watch over the abandoned booth, with its stray beverage coolers and racks of snacks, until Mohamed’s friends arrived a short time later.
(Riggs employees say the police asked them to keep an eye on the stand; they claim that they did, albeit from behind the bank’s locked doors.)
Hassan closed the coolers and removed the racks, setting them to the side. But fully shuttering the stand proved problematic. “My stand was different,” he said. “I don’t know how to close this one.”
Some passersby, evidently acquainted with Mohamed, were stunned when Hassan informed them of the news. “They took Mostafa?” asked one woman.
As Hassan continued to divert would-be patrons, he lamented what he described as overly aggressive enforcement of D.C. street-vending regulations. “It’s one reason I left the job,” he says. “They never treat you fairly. They treat you like a criminal.”
At 5:14 p.m., a green van pulled up behind the booth. Two men hopped out and began packing up Mohamed’s wares, relieving Hassan, the self-appointed watchman.
One of the men, Jesus Maria, who described himself as a friend of Mohamed’s, denounced the arrest as unnecessary. “They arrested him for nothing,” he says. “He just forget his license.”
Maria was especially upset by the booth’s abandonment: “I don’t know why they don’t let him lock up his stand. He left all his money. They should wait until somebody comes to take over.”
On Monday, June 2, Mohamed’s hot-dog stand was back in business, though it was staffed by his cousin, Mohamed A. Mostafa, sporting his vendor’s license on a chain around his neck, in compliance with city rules.
Around noon, Mohamed himself arrived on the scene, carrying a 12-pack of diet cola to restock the coolers. “I came today only to help,” he explains.
Mohamed, 29, suggests his arrest was unfounded. He claims he technically wasn’t working at the time. “I was outside the cart,” he says.
Mohamed was standing on the sidewalk, he says, when the officer asked to see his vendor’s license. Having left the proper documentation at his home in Falls Church, Mohamed admits that he tried to evade arrest: “I tell him, ‘I’m not working here.’”
When that didn’t work, Mohamed fled into the bank. The officer pursued him inside, handcuffed him, and brought him back outside to the cruiser.
Mohamed paid a $50 fine at First District headquarters, he says, and was released about 30 minutes later.
Luckily for Mohamed, he was cited by the Metropolitan Police Department and not the enforcement division of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), which governs street vending in the city.
While regulators can’t arrest offenders, says DCRA spokesperson Gwen Davis, they issue higher fines$500 for unlicensed vendors. “If you are vending without a license, you will be fined,” Davis says.
Although he returned to the same vending venue the next business day, Mohamed says he has soured on that scene. He now intends to hawk hot dogs elsewhere, possibly relocating to the Home Depot on Rhode Island Avenue NE. “It’s much better than here,” he says. CP