‘Hopefully, one day we’ll be back’: Vendors struggle to turn profit in Dumbo after Brooklyn Bridge crackdown

Former Brooklyn Bridge vendor standing next to table in Dumbo
Vendors who formerly sold their wares on the Brooklyn Bridge have moved onto Dumbo’s streets since a ban on vendors went into effect.
Photo by Adam Daly

Former Brooklyn Bridge vendors say they are hoping city officials will find a solution that will allow them to sell their wares once again on the iconic landmark, as they struggle to turn a profit in Dumbo under tight restrictions.

The city’s ban on vendors along the Brooklyn Bridge walkway took effect on Jan. 3 in a bid to tackle the influx of sellers that City Hall called a public safety issue due to the sprawling stalls taking up sidewalk space causing congestion for pedestrians.

There was an exodus to Dumbo by many vendors hoping to catch tourists on the Brooklyn side of the bridge but a recent crackdown by the Parks Department saw the volume of sellers slimmed down to just two per block.

Michael Seri, a Dumbo local and former vendor on the bridge, said the recent ban and current restrictions on where they can sell in the area has caused his profits to plummet.

former brooklyn bridge vendor standing on street
Former Brooklyn Bridge vendor Michael Seri says business has been horrible since Jan. 3. Photo by Adam Daly

“It has been horrible for business. I don’t know how it’s all going to unfold,” Seri told Brooklyn Paper as he stood next to his stand on Washington Street, seeing just one customer in the space of an hour.

Seri, who had been vending on the bridge since early last summer, said officials ought to focus on enforcement on the bridge that would allow legal vendors to continue to make a living.

“It needed to get cleaned up and tighten up but they didn’t have to us throw all off the bridge, they could have done it without going to drastic measures,” said Seri. “I think officials have shot themselves in the foot because the sale taxes that were coming in are gone now.”

Sharing the block with Seri on Thursday evening was Hosam Khedr who told Brooklyn Paper he had only managed to make $50 a day since moving off the bridge.

Khedr has been a staple on the Brooklyn Bridge for the last two years and, like Seri, is hoping City Hall will find a middle-of the-road solution to the problem.

“We can address the safety aspect but what about those who rely on the business of tourists. They work hard trying to provide for their families, trying to follow the American dream,” he said. “One day, hopefully, we will be back on the bridge.”

Since the Jan. 3 ban took hold, the Parks Department has not issued any summons to vendors who moved to Dumbo but has instead been trying to move them to areas where they are in compliance with the law.

City Hall Deputy Press Secretary Liz Garcia said the Adams administration will continue to help street vendors make a living outside of the shadows, and that city agencies will continue to educate them on rules and regulations.

“In one week, we have gone from having a crowded, unsafe Brooklyn Bridge with people packed together like sardines to a safer, more walkable bridge,” Garcia said. “We have been continually monitoring conditions on the Brooklyn side of the bridge, and we are communicating directly with these vendors to help them identify existing, designated spaces where they can legally vend.”

The initial influx of vendors to Dumbo’s streets prompted complaints from residents who said initial conditions on Washington Street were “unsafe.”

Jimmy Ng of the Dumbo Action Committee said he is encouraged that many illegal vending conditions have been addressed, making the sidewalks safe and navigable once again.

vendors in dumbo
Parks Department officials looked on as a sprinkling of tourists checked out the stalls on Washington Street. Photo by Adam Daly

“As residents, we will continue advocating to ensure that these newly safe conditions persist in the long-term after this brief period of heightened attention through ongoing dialogue and partnership with our elected officials, the City, and street vendors,” said Ng. “As before, we welcome the sharing of our community space with any and all vendors, as long as they do so in a safe and legal manner.”

Local Council Member Lincoln Restler told this paper his office is in active communication with City Hall, Sanitation, Parks, and other city agencies to ensure that vendors are following rules and that the health and safety of all is being prioritized.

“We are committed to implementing short and long term solutions with the Adams administration to ensure the quality of life of Dumbo residents and appropriate opportunities for vendors,” Restler said.

The vendors who spoke with Brooklyn Paper Thursday said they are hoping to find an ally in local government who will advocate for their return to the the bridge. It is uncertain whether they will find that ally in Restler who said he was supportive of the Adams administration’s efforts to expand pedestrian space and reduce congestion on the bridge.