Standoff! Brick-and-mortar merchants occupy food cart sites in Bay Ridge

Standoff! Brick-and-mortar merchants occupy food cart sites in Bay Ridge
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

The simmering cold war between Bay Ridge’s food vendors and Fifth Avenue’s brick-and-mortar businesses boiled over on Monday morning when merchants occupied two prime pieces of sidewalk used by popular neighborhood gyro sellers — sparking a heated standoff that could last well into the night.

Local merchants from a new group called Save Our Streets, led by Lone Star bar owner Tony Gentile, set up folding tables on both Fifth Avenue and 86th Street at 7 am — taking over the food vendors’ spots — and sold newspapers and cookbooks. They also handed out T-shirts and literature about how food carts destroy neighborhood businesses.

But the irate vendors have vowed to reclaim their turf — escalating war for control on the busy intersection — with one food cart operator promising to circle the block until merchants break down their table and go home.

“I’m going to wait and go back as soon as they leave,” said Sammy Kassen, manager of the Middle Eastern Halal cart, which was forced to move further down the avenue in March when a pair of benches were illegally placed on his usual spot — presumably by outraged merchants.

Yet Gentile says he and his Save Our Streets members will meet Kassen’s waiting game head on and plans to stay put until the vendors leave Bay Ridge.

“I’ll be out here every night as long as I need to be until they’re gone,” said Gentile. “I pay $9,000 a month in rent — these guys don’t pay anything.”

Islam Bauiomy, who lost his longtime spot on 86th Street, complained that the food carts are constantly under attack.

“We don’t bother anyone,” Bauiomy said. “I’m here to work. I have a family and we have to eat.”

Police said they won’t remove Gentile’s folding tables because they’re legal — and some residents agreed.

“They’re not paying rent,” resident Michael Kerrigonh said of the vendors. “The hard-working people here pay rent and contribute to the community.”

The standoff is only the latest skirmish in a long-simmering feud between the two sides.

Business owners have long complained that the food carts pollute the sidewalk and attract rowdy drunks. Kassen, who pays $200 for a two-year permit allowing him to sell on the street, cried foul, claiming he and his fellow vendors have done nothing wrong.

Things got messy a few weeks after the benches were mysteriously put in: Kassen was backing into his new spot a few feet from the benches when he hit Gentile with his cart, who was blocking his path. No charges were filed and Gentile was taken to the hospital with minor injuries.

Last month the manager of the 86th Street Business Improvement District refused to remove the rogue benches.

— with Will Bredderman

Reach reporter Daniel Bush at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-8310. Follow him at twitter.com/dan_bush.

We won’t go: Middle Eastern Halal Cart’s workers said they would stay day and night on the corner of 86th Street and Fifth Avenue until Save Our Streets moves.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham