NEW YORK CITY- As businesses in New York City crash and burn, some forever, opportunists in the form of street vendors have begun to take over the streets in the Big Apple, the New York Post reports.
What kinds of good are being hawked? You name it—live crabs, old shoes, disposable face masks, baseball caps—you name it, it might be available.
The Post reports that illegal street peddlers have begun selling such items, primarily in the outer boroughs of the city and along with it blocking sidewalks with their junk and pulling customers out of shops already reeling due to COVID-19.
And with it, many are pointing the blame squarely at one man—New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The city has turned into one gigantic tag sale, with folding tables and rollout mats taking over sidewalks once teeming with pedestrians, primarily avoiding downtown Manhattan and instead spreading out in the outer boroughs of Brooklyn, the Bronx, Staten Island and Queens.
The Post identified 149th Street and Fordham Road in the Bronx as a hotspot, as well as Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn and Main Street in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens, sitting a short distance from the Post Office and the 7 Train station.
The outlet said they counted 27 street vendors in the Flushing neighborhood on only one side of the street. Two of them were military veterans as identified by their yellow vendor licenses. Others did not appear to understand English, while others turned away when they were asked to show their licenses.
According to DianSong Yu of the Flushing Business Improvement District, he estimates around 90 percent of the vendors are operating without the proper license.
In the city, some 20,000 people in total are licensed vendors, according to the Street Vendor Project, an advocacy group. With that said however, only a few thousand hold general merchandise licenses, which does not include food vendors.
“It’s a very tough time for everybody, we get it,” Yu told The Post. “But we need to be fair to the local merchant who are paying very high rent and taxes. And they’re hurting.”
One man only identified as “Bobby” has a yellow license where he is stationed on Main in Flushing…and he is none to happy about the people who are infiltrating the neighborhood.
“They’re robbing the city of taxes. They’re taking money from the veterans. They’re taking jobs,” said Bobby, a Vietnam veteran.
The Department of Consumer Affairs in the city issues the vendor licenses. There is a cap on non-veteran general vendor licenses of 853 and charges a $100 or $200 fee, depending on the time of year. An honorably discharged veteran is able to obtain a permit free of charge.
Looking for live blue crabs? Sanford and Main is the place. The vendors sell the crabs for a dollar apiece out of their wooden bushels stacked in threes.
While New York permits crabbing in the waters surrounding Queens, there are restrictions on the size and numbers of catches; there are permits required for larger hauls.
However, there is no retail permit required to sell crabs, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation.
While the city’s health department licenses mobile food vendors and prohibits the sale of raw seafood, the department doesn’t monitor the street vendors.
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That has led to some folks getting sick. In one case, the wife of a licensed vendor bought a dozen a few weeks ago, which her husband objected to.
“She figured what could go wrong…well plenty,” said the husband, who did not wish to be identified.
On that night, she ate the crab legs, after which she started to feel ill. Her husband dissected the leftovers to see what was up and found white worms in the bellies of the crabs. A spokesman for the city’s health department, Patrick Gallahue said that agency is investigating.
“I was an illegal vendor,” said the husband, now in his 70’s. “I can understand if you can go out and sell. Why not? But the situation is out of hand—outrageously out of hand.”
One business owner in Flushing, Ira Dananberg said, “I’ve never seen anything like it. People literally have no choice but to walk on top of each other.”
Ira Dananberg, owns a hearing aid business in the neighborhood.
His concern comes about because many of his customers are older and a number walk with canes or walkers. They get intimidated by crowds, Dananberg said.
Since the beginning of January through the third week of December, illegal vendor complaints across New York City totaled nearly 3,000, and that includes the city being locked down for 78 days. Last year for the whole year with no lockdown the number amounted to 3,101.
Enforcement seems to be down as well. In the first nine months of this year, the NYPD only wrote 28 tickets for unlicensed vending. In 2019, the total for the year was 173.
There could be a number of reasons for that, primarily the defunding of police and officers standing down from proactive policing. Or it’s possible that due to the increase in violent crime across the city, officers are busy responding to criminal complaints.
This is where the fingers are pointed squarely at de Blasio, who was the target of wrath from Dananberg, Bobby, and others.
In June, de Blasio ordered the NYPD to stop taking enforcement action against illegal peddlers, which were included as part of a number of policy changes announced by the mayor after the onset of the Black Lives Matter protests/riots.
“It’s a circus,” said New York City Councilman Peter Koo, who introduced a bill which was passed two years ago that banned all vending, including food carts on Main Street.
“This falls squarely on the mayor.”
Dananberg said he made a couple of 311 complaints about the situation with the vendors online, which were forwarded to the 109th Precinct. Responding officers told hm that their hands “were tied” because of de Blasio’s moratorium.
However, a spokeswoman for the NYPD, Det. Sophia Mason said that police are still handling vendor complaints, however not for long.
On Jan. 15, enforcement of vendor issues will be transferred from the NYPD to Consumer Affairs, according to de Blasio spokeswoman Laura Feyer.
“We remain committed to a diverse commercial ecosystem, where small businesses of all kinds coexist and contribute to a vibrant street life,” she said.
That is of course except the thousands of businesses which have closed in the city due to de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s dictates. Apparently those businesses are not welcome to “contribute to a vibrant street life.”
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