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Save the food vendors!

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There’s only one reaction that a true New Yorker could have to this week’s report that Bay Ridge’s community board has again asked the city to bar food vendors from some of the neighborhood’s main commercial strips.

Give us a freakin’ break!

If there is anything that defines this city — and distinguishes it from the homogenized, generic dead zones that masquerade as urban centers in virtually every other big city in the country — it is the vitality of our street life.

Is it sometimes messy? Is it sometimes tumultuous? Certainly. But the alternative is block after block of suburban dystopia.

But even more important than the streetscape is the valuable service that licensed street food vendors provide. In an era when everyone needs to stretch the dollar, is there anything more welcome than a $3.50 falafel sandwich or a $4 chicken shawarma?

Not to Community Board 10, which has embraced a specious claim from local restaurateurs that street vendors are unfair competition because they pay no rent.

Last week, the board called on the city to ban food vendors from 86th Street between Fourth Avenue and Fort Hamilton Parkway, as well as Fourth and Fifth avenues between 84th and 88th streets.

This is downright un-American.

For one thing, if the street vendors are, as the community board contends, causing litter or selling unsafe food, there is already an enforcement mechanism in place for the city to issue summonses or revoke licenses.

And, lest we forget, most of these food vendors are members of our communities, too — paying taxes, working hard, sending their kids to public schools. As such, their struggles are equally worthy of our attention as those of neighborhood restaurant owners.

But the larger issue — the supposedly unfair competition that benefits vendors — is simply a straw man. Competition among businesses is the only thing that ensures a vibrant business community.

What incentive would the owners of, say, Karam on Fourth Avenue have for holding down the price of their indescribably great chicken sandwich if there was not a street food vendor nearby selling a similar (though not as good) sandwich for a little less?

And Community Board 10 needs to heed the most important evidence that the public wants its street food vendors: they’re always busy with loyal customers!

Save our streets and save our lunches — keep the food vendors.

Updated 5:13 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

al pankin from downtown says:
street vendors shoild be banned and outlawed. this city taxes every business to death, this past week real estates taxes were due and these taxes are passed on to the stores and resturants that pay rent, then the city turns a blind eye toward vendors who don't pay any taxes or fees and run an underground unregulated business on the city streets. what taxes, water, permit, sign fees, etc do they pay. NONE. it the small business that are hurt by vendors. in boro hall park there is alegal vendor who even puts his dail trash in bags for the city park workers to pick up with the trash, what fees do they pay for rubbish removal? NONE. this is fairness to the small business man? I don't think so. is this allowed in Paris, London, Barcelona, Dublin. NO. this city needs every tax dollar it can get, it should ban street vendors and collect the taxes that all business pay.
July 3, 2009, 4:55 pm
al pankin from downtown says:
street vendors should be banned and outlawed. this city taxes every business to death, this past week real estates taxes were due and these taxes are passed on to the stores and resturants that pay rent, then the city turns a blind eye toward vendors who don't pay any taxes or fees and run an underground unregulated business on the city streets. what taxes, water, permit, sign fees, etc do they pay. NONE. it the small business that are hurt by vendors. in boro hall park there is a legal vendor who even puts his daily trash in bags for the city park workers to pick up with the trash, what fees do they pay for rubbish removal? NONE. this is fairness to the small business man? I don't think so. is this allowed in Paris, London, Barcelona, Dublin. NO. this city needs every tax dollar it can get, it should ban street vendors and collect the taxes that all business pay.
July 3, 2009, 4:58 pm
Pro-Vendor from Bay Ridge says:
Save the vendors!
This food war is ridiculous, and dubious.
There already were two shwarma/falafel places near the 86th St R stop. Then two MORE opened up there a few months ago.
And now one of the newcomers (the one on the corner) says the vendors are stealing business.
But didn't that newcomer hope to steal clients from the older places (and thus damage two venerable, licensed taxpayers)?
How dumb was it to open near two established competitors, AND during a recession -- and, in the case of this corner place, to charge more than either the two 'establisheds' or the other new guy? (That's OK for a sit-down meal, but not for a quickie takeout.)

Where's the proof that vendors are doing damage? Are restaurateurs polling people at the carts (which aren't even near the restaurants)? Tagging ex-customers via microchips? Are people running into the restaurant and screaming, 'HELL, NO! I'm going to the cart!' ??

Don't give me anecdotes about one vendor at Boro Hall (B.R. isn't Boro Hall), or weep about NYC taxes: NYC taxes everyone to death, including people who can't afford to own a business, and people who have to pinch their lunch pennies. PROVE that the falloff is due to vendors, not due to recession bad business decision "legal" competition.

I will ABSOLUTELY bet you that guys like "al pankin" would complain even if every vendor was licensed, posted the license on his cart, handed out several years of tax returns with every sandwich, and paid private carting to pick up trash.
July 4, 2009, 2:58 pm
local eater from bay ridge says:
Karam *does* make an "indescribably great chicken sandwich."
I also love the super-fresh felafel and humus at Bab Alhara on 86th btw 3rd-4th., near corner of 4th.
I only buy from street venders I'm rushed and have *no intention* of heading toward these or similar restaurants, or of going into any 'restaurant' at all, even McDonald's or DD.
If the venders weren't there, I'd eat a protein bar brought from home, or maybe buy one can of Coke in a deli and postpone eating until I was out of the neighborhood.
So quit your beefing, guys.
July 5, 2009, 7:16 pm
Steve from Bay Ridge says:
This is outrageous! Are those SOBs so pathetic that they would go after two guys who work in a tin box all day??!! Don't citizens have any say in where they spend their income?
July 5, 2009, 10:57 pm
Jason from Bay Ridge says:
It's not as if the street vendors are selling clothing and shoes in front of clothing and shoe stores. They're far off from the mideast restaurants.

They're not even taking business from NON mideast restaurants, 'cause people who buy from them either really want that shwarma or falafal, or want halal food. They're not gonna eat at Hinches or Burger King if the carts aren't there.
July 7, 2009, 12:17 pm
Erni from Park Ridge says:
These guys dont pay taxes but instead have to buy their license from the city on a yearly basis. Much like the tokens that cab companies purchase to put a cab on the streets in the city. They have every right to do business, as long as they are serving safe food and people want it they should be allowed to sell it.
FYI I don't personally like cart food, but would never push my feelings into an argument over one's right to pursue happiness.
Sept. 14, 2009, 1:47 pm
Rodrigo from Jackson Heights says:
If food vendors are here to stay, the should pay taxes and they should be more responsible for the garbage they make on the area......and the health Department should keep eyes open and see how the food is cooked, also the way the handle money and food at the same time....It is a growing problem everywhere in the city...Jackson Heights is not getting better...trash everywhere where food vendors are
Sept. 15, 2009, 7:03 pm

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