Sunset Park BID, local businesses fed up with street vendors

A number of Sunset Park residents and store owners are calling foul on several street vendors that have illegally set up shop in the Sunset Park Business Improvement District (BID) and are demanding that someone put a stop to it.

Tim Chang, owner of shoe store Es La Vida (5403 Fifth Avenue) and executive board member of the BID, claims he’s had his fair of hardships due to the vendors.

“They tend to block off the whole avenue. They come, they set up, they dump garbage and go home,” he said. “They make a mess. Sanitation comes and the streets are not clean. We, the owners of the store and the building, then get the tickets and fines for their garbage. It’s getting bad.”

Chang also made note of the hazards.

“It’s not safe for people walking either,” he said. “[These vendors] set up and people can’t even walk. They take half of sidewalk.”

According to Executive Director of the Sunset Park BID Renee Giordano, permits aren’t the issue for the vendors. Rather, it’s where the vendors set up that is considered illegal.

“They’re illegally vending because they’re not allowed to vend in this section. This area is what is called a C4 district,” she explained. “It’s a special zone where there should be no vendors at all from 47th to 57th Streets and Fifth Avenue.”

Another local business owner, Raul Armilla, who has owned Novedades Mexicanas — a clothing store at 4913 Fifth Avenue — for 17 years also said that his shop has suffered.


“The problem is they are taking us out of business, especially during the weekends,” he said. “It’s very hard to sell cheap prices. They kill us. If we sell something for $5, they sell for $1. It’s sad that people try to stay in business but, they can’t pay bills to survive and they close down.”

Giordano — also troubled by the lack of space — added that once a space shuts its doors, vendors will set up shop right against the closed space.

“These rules were created because of safety,” she said. “None were created for economic reasons. If it was unsafe to have vendors out there in 1960’s when they created rules, it should be considered unsafe [today]. We haven’t changed the block at all or made the sidewalk bigger. It’s still unsafe.”

A lack of knowledge for the rules and lack of police manpower prevents change from occurring, according to Giordano. “Many don’t know the regulations because they’re so convoluted that it’s hard to figure out,” she said, adding that the fines the vendors receive don’t ever prevent them from continuing their business. “It’s the cost of doing business. The fines are nominal. The first fine is $50.”

Meanwhile, the New York City BID Association is aware of the issues and agrees with the concerns of Sunset store owners.

“New York City’s street vendor permit system is broken,” said BID Association co-chairs Ellen Baer and Michael Lambert in a statement. “It’s chaotic and unfair for everyone involved: small business owners, pedestrians – and the vendors themselves. The New York City BID Association supports changes to the current system to help street vending continue to thrive.”

Some of the changes already proposed by the BID include establishing a dedicated and accountable vending enforcement unit, creating new legislation that would direct the mayor to use his authority to regulate street vendors and creating a process for granting legal recognition to current vendors.

“The BID Association shares the goals of advocates for street vendors who want to end the black market, make enforcement less onerous and more effective, and open up economic opportunities,” the group said.

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