Only city can end vendor war

May 25, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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Problem plagues biz districts everywhere

By Paula Katinas
Bay Ridge Eagle

BAY RIDGE — The food vendor war is a citywide problem that isn’t going to be solved unless New York officials put in new rules, Community Board 10 Chair Joanne Seminara said as the conflict between sidewalk vendors and brick-and-mortar business owners entered a new phase.

“This is much bigger than Bay Ridge. It is citywide. It has to be ironed out,” Seminara told board members at their May 21 meeting. “Until the law changes, I don’t see it getting resolved.”

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Board 10 is on record as siding with the brick-and-mortar crowd. The board voted to request that a city-imposed ban on sidewalk vendors within the Bay Ridge 86th Street Business Improvement District be amended to include food carts. Food vendors are currently exempt from the ban and are allowed to set up their carts on any sidewalk they choose as long as they have a permit.

Restaurant owners in Bay Ridge have complained that the food vendors constitute unfair competition and are taking customers away from them. The food vendor does not have to pay real estate taxes and is not subject to unannounced inspections by the Department of Health, restaurant owners charged.

But food vendors said they are operating within the law and are good neighbors.

Tensions recently escalated when a group of business owners, led by Tony Gentile, owner of Lone Star Bar and Grill on Fifth Avenue, occupied a spot on the sidewalk on Fifth Avenue and 86th Street, temporarily displacing a halal food cart owner for three days. The protesters called themselves “Save Our Streetscape.”

The protest came on the heels of a strange act in which benches mysteriously popped up in the same spot. It’s not clear who put the benches there. The food vendor was unable to conduct business in his usual spot because the benches blocked his cart.

The “Save Our Streetscape” protest was called off after three days.

Councilman Vincent Gentile, in an effort to calm things down, set up a meeting last week at the 68th Police Precinct with police, Board 10 leaders and representatives of restaurants and the food vendors.

Board 10 member Habib Joudeh, who attended that meeting, said he was concerned that the benches were being used to block the food cart.

“When somebody takes the law into their own hands, this is not a good thing,” Joudeh said.

Joudeh said he offered to pay the $425 fee it would take to get the benches removed, but was turned down.

“We need to solve this. It’s putting a crack in our community,” he said.

Board 10 District Manager Josephine Beckmann agreed with Seminara.

“It is a broader issue, not just one restaurant owner against one food vendor. It is an issue of fairness and equity in the rules and regulations,” Beckmann said.

Like Joudeh, Beckmann issued a plea for the conflict to be resolved peacefully.

“We do not condone the misuse of putting in benches,” she said.

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