'People don't have the money': Queens street vendor crackdown sparks outcry from community

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Wednesday, August 2, 2023
City officials protest street vendor crackdown in Queens
The Queens community came together Wednesday to publicly condemn the recent crackdown of unlicensed street vendors, many who are immigrant women. Joe Torres has the story.

CORONA, Queens (WABC) -- In Corona Plaza, the vendors who normally sell ethnic food and handmade crafts were gathered together on Wednesday for another reason.

The popular hub created by food vendors for the community was brought to an abrupt halt last week when the Sanitation Department ordered all the unlicensed vendors -nearly 80 in total - to shut down.

Wednesday saw Queens Borough President Donovan Richards bring in federal, state and city leaders to publicly condemn the sweep of mostly immigrant women who just want to work and feed their families.

For these vendors, it's not just a matter of not wanting to, but they also can't afford to, pay the fines.

"People don't have the money," said Carina Kaufman-Gutierrez of the Street Vendor Project, which works for vendor rights. "They want to work. They want to work legally. They want to work safely."

"We need to increase the number of licenses," said New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. "There are only 853 total licenses available for merchandise vendors, making the waiting list so long it has been closed for over a decade."

In a statement, the Sanitation Department told Eyewitness News the enforcement took place in "a location where recent visits showed significant issues with cleanliness and pedestrian access."

Elmhurst resident Ramses Frias understands the city's position.

"Look at the ground that we're on. It's not clean," said Frias. "It's not healthy. We have birds flying over that can land on your food. There is a constant rodent problem. It's just a constant issue of public health and public safety."

The vendors say they've done everything the city has asked them to do. They organized. They dump their trash in the containers provided by the city. They've communicated with sanitation, transportation, and police.

They want to get permits and licenses, but argue the system works against them.

"I think they've taken the steps. We need the city to come back to the table and be part of the solution because they already are," said Queens Borough President Donovan Richards.

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