Thursday, October 28

Queens street vendors fear that fines and police persecution will return amid NY economic reopening


The same fear that he feels Salvadoran Alex Guillén, who has been making a living for a year selling masks on the streets of Corona, in Queens, is shared by thousands of families who survive on street sales: it is probable that with the total economic reopening of New York the fines will return up to $ 1,000 for occupying sidewalks and other public spaces, a “penalty” applied for not having licenses approved by the City. And, furthermore, the officers of the New York City Police Department (NYPD) return to seize your merchandise.

“For more than a year no fines have been applied for the pandemic. But now what everything goes back to normal, we who survive from this work, we only ask that don’t chase us. That they give us opportunities to legalize our businesses, ”said Alex, who is now a member of the Street Vendors Project and lost his job in a restaurant due to the coronavirus crisis.

Given that possibility exposed by the Central American, this Wednesday hundreds of street vendors met in Corona Plaza with the support of organizations that support the rights of informal workers and elected officials, to demand a moratorium on heavy fines and urge the authorities to create a fair system of permits and licenses.

Street vending became a “lifeline” for the Undocumented and Unemployed New Yorkers as a way to survive the pandemic.

But some community leaders presume that beginning this week, as part of New York City’s reopening, City agencies could they start targeting again to thousands of unlicensed informal traders.

Alex Guillén: “We just want to be given an opportunity to undertake commercially.” (Photo: F. Martínez)

Don’t let the nightmare come back!

“What kind of heart can a policeman have that puts a fine of $ 1,000 and He takes some tamales from a mother who is trying to survive. Those were situations that we saw in previous years and it is not human that in full recovery of the city, come back that nightmare “, said the Mexican Mirna Deríos, 55, who sells bottles of water in the summer around the Subway Jackson Heights station, on Rooselvet Avenue.

Meanwhile, the Bolivian Tania Mattos proudly remembers that when she was a child her mother I was selling food on the streets of Queens to raise his family, therefore as leader of the Queens Neighbors Union, it has been drawn as a battle front that these workers are treated with “Respect and dignity” during this summer, which are key months in the recovery of many families.

“Let’s hope that the City authorities do not have as an argument that as everything is being opened again to tourism, then need to clean the streets. Those who come to Queens are not visiting large corporations but our small business entrepreneurs. They deserve to have opportunities to regularize “Mattos stated.

Also, the Queens Borough President Donovan Richards Jr, joined the meeting of the ‘ambulantes’ making it clear that from his instance he will not support any measure that “Generate more suffering” to thousands of neighbors who, during the pandemic, were even essential to guarantee services and food when everything was closed.

“We must wait for a moratorium on penalties, which at this time would be more ruin for our families who survive on the streets. We condemn any police action at this time, where all rather need a relief, “he said.

Tania Mattos: “We hope that now the City does not have as a strategy to clean the streets for tourists.” (Photo: Fernando Martínez)

What to expect in the future?

This demonstration of street vendors coincides with the final days of the campaign for the Democratic primaries to renew various local leaderships. In this sense, 60 aspiring to occupy a chair in the City Council they have committed to pass legislation that expands the facilities to obtain sales licenses on the streets of the Big Apple.

Also coalitions and informal traders have their hopes focused on the approval in the next session in the State Assembly of the Ley S1175 promoted by the Colombian-American senator, Jessica Ramos, who rightly represents the Corona and Jackson Heights district, home to thousands of street vendors.

The legal initiative, which was introduced in January this year, I would amend the current regulations in relation to the regulation of street vendors in every city in New York, with a population of more than one million.

“This pandemic in Queens was very hard, now we don’t want to see what would happen if the scheme of criminalizing informal traders is repeated, that are also part of the economic dynamics of our neighborhoods. This moratorium on fines should be approved now, ”Ramos stressed.

For hundreds of merchants the recent approval of legislation 1116 in the Municipal Council that opens a window to duplicate the number of new licenses that can be awarded to street vendors, which were frozen since 1979, and burying the black market practice of charging to ‘rent’ these permits, gives a respite only to gastronomic entrepreneurs.

“For me who sell plastic containers and my sister who sells beauty products, this law means nothing in the future, It only benefits those who offer prepared food. The idea is that they expand the permits and offer other spaces “, he explained. Rosita Landa, a Mexican that has been trading products on the sidewalks of the ‘Rooselvet’ for eight years.

Informal merchants demand that legislation 1175 pass in the State Assembly (Photo: F. Martínez)

The “hot potato”

The thorny controversy over street vendors in Hispanic Queens neighborhoods is not new, though take new airs with unemployment and the closure of businesses that the last pandemic year generated, which pushed many more people to take to the streets.

However, there is another struggle within the dynamic Rooselvelt Avenue: that of formal merchants.

A Colombian businessman A restaurant owner on 78th Street who preferred to omit his identity said that this was one of the issues that will become the “hot potato” for the next Mayor.

“I am an immigrant, I have compassion for those on the streets selling their little things to eat. But you have to find an intermediate point and look for other spaces other than the sidewalks. Sometimes they take to the bus stops and obviously the police evict him. They also block business entry. It is a very complicated issue”, the merchant stressed.

The newspaper consulted municipal sources about this demand for a moratorium on fines and police supervision, but received no comment from the Mayor’s Office.

The data:

  • 10,000 to 20,000 merchants without licenses they survive on the streets of the Big Apple.


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