Mayhem in the streets: Illegal vendors are overtaking NYC
Live crabs. Bras with rhinestones. Old shoes. Frayed electrical cords. Knock-off Louis Vuitton clutches. Disposable face masks. Mets caps.
Illegal street peddlers hawking such items have taken over the outer boroughs, clogging sidewalks with their second-hand wares and pulling customers from pandemic-ravaged mom-and-pop shops.
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And everybody is pointing the finger at Mayor de Blasio.
From Brooklyn to the Bronx, Staten Island and Queens, folding tables and mats rolled out on the ground force pedestrians to go single-file or step aside so they don’t get run over.
In the Bronx, 149th Street and Fordham Road are hotspots. So is Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park and Flushing’s Main Street, especially the few blocks from the Post Office at Sanford Avenue to the 7 Train station at Roosevelt Avenue.
On Main, between Sanford and 41st Avenue, The Post counted 27 street vendors – on just one side of the street. Two pulled out yellow licenses, showing they’re military veterans. Six shook their heads like they didn’t understand English. The others turned away or looked down when asked to show their licenses.
DianSong Yu of the Flushing Business Improvement District estimates 90 percent of the vendors aren’t licensed. Citywide, the number of all kinds of vendors stands at roughly 20,000, according to the Street Vendor Project, an advocacy group. But legit general merchandise license-holders, not including mobile food vendors, total a few thousand.
“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.”
Bobby has a yellow license for his spot on Main — and he’s mad about the infiltrators. “They’re robbing the city of taxes. They’re taking money from the veterans. They’re taking jobs,” said Bobby, who wouldn’t give his last name but told The Post he fought in Vietnam.
Licenses get doled out by the Department of Consumer Affairs. The city caps non-veteran general vendor licenses at 853 and charges a $100 or $200 fee depending on what time of year an applicant files. Any honorably discharged veteran can get a permit for free.
Sanford and Main is where you can find live blue crabs. Hawkers stack their wooden bushels three high, selling the crustaceans for a buck apiece.
Whether the crabs are legal or safe to eat is anybody’s guess. No agency could tell The Post with certainty and none took responsibility for oversight.
New York state allows crabbing in the waters around Queens, but has restrictions on the size and number of catches. It issues permits for large hauls.
But the regulating agency, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, doesn’t require a retail permit to sell the crabs. The city Health Department licenses mobile food vendors, who can’t sell raw seafood, but doesn’t monitor the street peddlers.
The wife of a licensed vendor bought a dozen several weeks ago, over the objections of her husband, who hasn’t worked during the pandemic because of chronic lung disease.
“She figured what could go wrong … well plenty,” said the husband who spoke to The Post on the condition of anonymity.
That night, she nibbled on crab legs. Not long after, she started to feel sick and her husband decided to dissect the leftovers for clues. He found white worms in the bellies. The Health Department is investigating, spokesman Patrick Gallahue told The Post.
“I was an illegal vendor,” confessed the husband, who now is in his 70s. “I can understand if you can go out and sell. Why not? But the situation is out of hand – outrageously out of hand.”
At 39th and Main, Ira Dananberg looks down on the crush of humanity from his second-floor hearing-aid business, Acousticon of Flushing.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Dananberg, who has been at his location for 19 years. “People literally have no choice but to walk on top of each other.”
He worries because most of his customers are older and use a cane or a walker. And they get intimidated by the crowds.
From January through Dec. 21, illegal street vendor complaints across the five boroughs totaled 2,907 – despite the city being in lockdown for 78 days. The 2019 figure: 3,101.
For the first nine months of 2020, the NYPD wrote 28 tickets to unlicensed vendors. Last year’s tally was 173.
Dananberg, Bobby and a host of others blame de Blasio, who ordered the NYPD to stop cracking down on illegal peddlers in early June — part of a package of policy changes he announced after more than a week of violent Black Lives Matter protests.
“It’s a circus,” said Councilman Peter Koo, who introduced a bill passed two years ago that bans all vending – even food carts – on Main Street. “This falls squarely on the mayor.”
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