Street vendors should be left alone

Street vendors should be left alone
Courtesy: Street Vendors Project

A shameful story is taking place in Bay Ridge.

Four years ago, Sammy Kassen opened a food cart at 86th Street and Fifth Avenue. As a first-generation American, he always dreamed of having his own business. At great expense, he got the proper permits from the city. He chose a legal vending location – one of the few such spots in the area. He paid his taxes and began hiring employees.

Sammy and his workers built up a loyal following by offering tasty food at prices nearly everyone can afford. Even the managers at the adjacent Chase Bank wrote Sammy a letter of support!

Yet, the past few months, other Bay Ridge merchants have shamefully tried to drive Sammy out of business. They sought to have the area closed to vending. They lodged false complaints at the Department of Health. They launched a negative press campaign. Finally, a few weeks ago, in the dead of night, someone placed illegal benches on the sidewalk, physically displacing Sammy’s cart.

No one will take responsibility for bolting down the benches.

No one may affix anything to a public sidewalk without a permit from the city, which these benches don’t have. Whoever put the benches there is liable for criminal sanctions of up to 15 days in jail. The city should investigate this crime and hold the wrongdoers accountable.

In addition, the local merchants are just plain wrong. Sammy is not stealing their business. Many studies show that street vendors don’t compete with restaurants; they offer different foods at different prices. Here, the loudest complaints are coming from a bar owner and bagel shop down the street. The vendors sell chicken and falafel, not beer and bagels! Its common sense these products don’t compete.

Sammy is back at his spot, for now. And the commotion may be dying down. That’s good for everyone – local customers most of all. Why? They enjoy getting their breakfast at Brooklyn Bagels, going to Sammy’s cart for lunch, and washing it all down with a Lone Star Bar beer at night!

Sean Basinski is the director of the Street Vendor Project.