City wrong on vendors

The Brooklyn Paper
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It is completely understandable that food lovers went bananas this week after reports that the city was planning to kick a dozen or so Latin American food vendors from their longtime positions around the ballfields of Red Hook Park.

The vendors are a cherished part of urban life — a tradition that sprang up organically, not because someone did a focus group for a large corporation.

The good news is that the early reports of the vendors’ demise were a bit overblown. The city isn’t kicking the vendors out of Red Hook Park.

But what the Parks Department is doing is no less worrisome. The agency — trotting out that old bureaucratic canard, namely, the need to replace a longstanding informal permitting process with a standard city process — will now put the vendors’ spaces up for open bid.

The resulting bidding war could end up costing these mom and pop vendors thousands of dollars more than the roughly $600 they each pay every season to keep their spots. And that’s if they win the bidding war at all.

In Manhattan, open bidding means that some hot dog stand operators pay upwards of $320,000 for a high-traffic space, such as the plaza at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Certainly, that won’t happen in Red Hook. The Parks Department is confident that the existing vendors will be the only bidders for the site and that their permits will probably cost what they do now.

But why leave it up to the market to decide the value of those permits — especially since it was the vendors, setting up shop decades ago near one of the city’s most-dangerous housing projects, who created the very value that the city now hopes to exploit?

That’s a persistent story all over Brooklyn right now. Whether on Willoughby Street in Downtown, where a developer is evicting longtime tenants to build a skyscraper, or in Red Hook, the story line is the same: hard-working people who built up neighborhoods that had been written off by the monied interests are the first to be kicked to the curb when those monied interests suddenly get interested again.

In the case of the Red Hook vendors, at least, the city has a chance to get it right: Sell the vendors a permit, at a reasonable price, and let this wonderful tradition continue.

Updated 4:29 pm, July 9, 2018
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