The Red Hook Food Vendors have finally gotten their proper respect.
Last week, the Department of Small Business Services honored the Brooklyn food institution with an “achievement award,” which recognizes the organization’s contribution to fostering economic opportunity in the neighborhood.
The irony is more piquant than a jalapeno. After all, two years ago, the city forced the vendors to bid to retain their spots along Bay Street where they had been operating for more than 30 years. The resulting rule-tightening ended up costing each vendor close to $50,000 in upgrades.
And no one needed a Small Business Services award to know that the vendors are a certifiable institution, with hungry New Yorkers trekking to the Hook for some home-cooked Latino favorites like pupusas, tacos, hueraches and ceviche. The vendors themselves have also branched out to other arenas like the Brooklyn Flea and the Red Hook Mercado.
Fittingly, the organization received the agency’s Placemaking Award, which honors a business for increasing the visibility and identity of a neighborhood.
Cesar Fuentes, executive director of the Food Vendors Committee of Red Hook, saw the award as sweet vindication.
“It means a dignified recognition after so many years of collective hard work, tears, sacrifice and hardships endured by our group,” said Fuentes. “It also marks a milestone reached in our neighborhood where support is unanimous and reciprocal.”
The Red Hook Food Vendors weren’t the only Brooklyn award winners — though like the vendors, the DUMBO Archway didn’t happen without city-created hassles.
The pedestrian path found under the Manhattan Bridge, which now grants access between the eastern and western part of Water Street, was boarded up for 17 years and used as a scrap metal storage space by the Department of Transportation. Despite nearly a decade of neighborhood outcry, it wasn’t until the DUMBO Improvement District put up some private money for a facelift that the city relented and restored the space for public use.
The archway has quickly become a classic New York gathering place — a cooler High Line, if you will — that hosts the Brooklyn Flea, World Cup soccer viewings and, just last week, DUMBO Fight Night.
“It’s an engaging public space,” said Kate Kerrigan, executive director of the DUMBO Improvement District, which the city honored with the Development Award for its work revitalizing the space.