The Republican contenders for mayor say they are fed up with food carts — a declaration that drew applause from Bay Ridge business leaders who battled controversial halal wagons, and boos from mobile vendor advocates.
Republicans John Catsimatidis, Joe Lhota, and George McDonald and Democrat-turned-Independent Adolfo Carrion took turns roasting street sellers at an April 30 forum at Saint Francis College in Brooklyn Heights in response to a question about how they would seek to regulate the vendors.
Catsimatidis, who founded the Gristedes and Red Apple supermarket chains, complained that sidewalk merchants eat into the profit margins of grocery stores and other brick-and-mortar businesses — and claimed that the cheap eats sellers get away without paying taxes, rent, and insurance.
“I suffer from this predicament,” said Catsimatidis. “We have a cart parked right in front of our doorstep that only has to pay a little permit fee. Meanwhile, I’m paying hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
The billionaire Greek immigrant grocer vowed to change street vendor permit laws to only allow the merchants to park in certain specialized areas, blocks away from stores selling similar products.
The other hizzoner hopefuls echoed Catsimatidis’s complaints and solutions.
“They shouldn’t be allowed on the streets selling the same products as stores,” argued frontrunner Joe Lhota, pointing out that in the past, regulations allowed only military veterans and people selling literature to do business on the sidewalk.
Carrion claimed that pavement peddlers discourage people from setting up traditional shops.
“It makes no sense putting your life savings into building a good store and have a street cart outside selling the same product at a significant discount,” the former Bronx Beep said.
Homeless advocate George McDonald alleged that cops let mobile vendors park their vehicles near their carts and illegally feed the meter all day.
“There’s no enforcement of any regulations,” said McDonald.
It was music to the ears of Pat Condren, head of Bay Ridge’s 86th Street Business Improvement District, a merchants’ group that battled a pair of halal carts parked at the corners of 86th Street and Fourth Avenue last year.
“This just shows this is a citywide issue, and we’re all on the same page,” said Condren.
But the Street Vendor Project, a pro-sidewalk-cart group, pointed to studies showing that street carts actually help storefront shops by drawing greater foot traffic.
“I know there’s this feeling and negative opinion brick-and-mortar businesses have toward vendors, but that’s what the research has shown,” said Street Vendor Project attorney Archana Dittakavi.
Democratic mayoral candidate Bill DeBlasio also called for new laws limiting where street vendors could set up last year.