Bench warfare! Ridge group will install seating to shoo away vendors

Bench warfare! Ridge group will install seating to shoo away vendors
Photo by Bess Adler

Small businesses in Bay Ridge are firing another salvo in their war against popular sidewalk food vendors, this time blocking them by installing benches to reduce the number of spaces available to the hawkers of cheap eats.

Mom and pop shopowners in the restaurant-heavy area near Fifth Avenue and 86th Street have long complained that the rent-free competition is poison — but the city has not acted.

So now the 86th Street Business Improvement District — a merchants group — will install 40 benches as part of a “beautification project” to snuff out the rivals.

“It’s innovative in that it physically blocks vendors,” said Dena Libner, spokeswoman for Councilman Vince Gentile (D–Bay Ridge), who is working with small businesses that want to see vendors beat it.

About half a dozen food carts dot the area, where whiffs of lamb curry mingle with the smell of pizza baking. Some of those vendors laughed at the idea of a bench invasion to thwart street food culture.

“It’s very silly,” said Martin Cancetty, who runs a pink frozen yogurt truck that often parks near 86th Street and Fourth Avenue. “It will create more problems than it solves.”

“I know some vendors who would come in the middle of the night and rip them right out,” he added. “Or you’re gonna get a bunch of carts congregating in the same spot.”

The Department of Health already limits food vendors like Cancetty to certain portions of the street. Food trucks must be at least 20 feet from the entrance of a building, on a sidewalk that is at least 12 feet wide, and at least 10 feet from the crosswalk, next to the curb.

The new benches — which are cost the business improvement district $2,000 each — limit those available spaces.

That’s perfectly fine with district President John Logue, who would like to see the cart guys beat it.

“We don’t think it’s fair,” he said. “Shops are paying a premium in rent and they pay a couple hundred bucks.”

Along with rent, storefronts must pay utilities and the business improvement district fee, while mobile vendors only have to pay $200 for a permit and $150 for a license. Last year, Community Board 10 asked the city to forbid all food vendors on Fifth Avenue between 65th and 85th streets, but the request was not granted.

But as business owners slam street vendors, hungry lunchtime crowds — who are enticed by the neighborhood’s diverse ethnic cuisine — love them.

“Sometimes you just want something cheap and quick,” said Debbie Maiurro, who was munching gyro on Fifth Street. “If I want to sit down I’m going to go to a restaurant.”

She might not have to. In two weeks, benches will be installed on 86th Street between Fourth Avenue and Fort Hamilton Parkway and on portions of Fifth Avenue between 65th and 85th Streets, using cash from the business improvement district, plus a city and federal grant.

Street food vendors on 86th Street, like Mohammed Hassan, may soon find their space occupied by a park bench as part of a local effort to shoo food hawkers.
The Brooklyn Paper / Sebastian Kahnert