In reaction to what he says is a proliferation of food carts on city streets, City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) said he would like to see the city Street Vendor Review Panel reconvene and implement a new plan regulating where and when the food carts can operate.
The panel was established by Mayor Rudy Giuliani in 1995 and charged with determining which streets would be closed to vending.
Weprin said the panel has not met in 10 years, and food carts have recently set up in his district in areas such as Bell Boulevard, Hillside Avenue, Springfield Boulevard and Union Turnpike, prompting complaints from residents and business owners.
“Food vendors have a right to do business, but the city must ensure that all food carts operate safely and in appropriate locations,” he said.
Matt Shapiro, a staff attorney for the Street Vendor Project advocacy group, said there was little empirical data to suggest on which grounds the panel made its decisions, but competition to businesses would not necessarily be a reason for closing a street to vendors.
One street vendor that has drawn numerous complaints is the Sarwari Halal Food cart that settled on the corner of Bell Boulevard and 73rd Avenue early last week.
“They just showed up last week and 10 businesses in the area and numerous residents complained,” the councilman said.
Business owners up and down the block, from Dunkin’ Donuts to Villa Rustica Ristorante, said the food cart represented unfair competition because it drew customers away without having to pay expenses such as rent.
Shapiro said there was evidence to the contrary.
“We’ve seen a lot of studies that actually show that vending increases business by bringing more foot traffic to the street,” he said.
Cindy Weu, co-owner of Sweet Adele’s, said her customers complained that the food cart was out of step with the neighborhood’s mostly residential character.
One of the cart’s owners, who wished to be identified only by the name Muhammad, said he chose the corner because there was a good amount of street traffic. He said he was doing a fair amount of business between the hours of 11 a.m. and 9 p.m. and that he had a number of loyal customers.
“The city makes the rules, not the store owners. I pay my taxes as the city allowed me to be here,” he said. “Everyone has to do something for a living. This is my job.”
Muhammad said many of his customers tell him that the neighborhood needs a place where they can get halal food and disagreed with the idea that he was drastically changing the character of the neighborhood.
“It’s not like this is Roosevelt Avenue. It’s not going to happen where you get a whole bunch of people and this turns into a busy intersection,” he said.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.
©2011 Community Newspaper Group
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