Brooklyn Heights

Illegal Christmas tree vendor finally evicted

It took "a village" (and an article in the Eagle) to remove the rogue peddler.

December 5, 2022 Mary Frost
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It took concerted efforts by local businesses, the 84th Precinct, Councilmember Lincoln Restler, the Department of Consumer Affairs and this newspaper to finally remove a rogue Christmas tree vendor that had been squatting on Montague Street, using a tax permit belonging to a local Key Food and breaking other laws.

A story in the Brooklyn Eagle played a role in getting action after shining a spotlight on the vendor, bringing unwanted attention.

“A big thank you for getting the situation out to the public,” Kate Chura, president of the Montague Business Improvement District, told the Eagle on Sunday. “They packed up merchandise and left yesterday, then this morning they took the wood tree rack/stands away.”

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This Christmas tree stand on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights disappeared over the weekend after neighboring businesses complained that it had set up shop without permission from the property owner, and was allegedly using a questionable tax permit. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle

According to Councilmember Restler, NYPD issued a summons to the vendor and asked them to leave the premises.

“In close coordination with leadership at the Department of Consumer Affairs and Worker Protection and the NYPD 84th Precinct, we are pleased this issue has been resolved. While we hope our neighbors have convenient access to Christmas trees, this vendor broke every rule in the book and we appreciate our partners in government heeding the calls of our office and the community for action,” Restler said.

“Thank you, thank you to our local family-owned newspaper. It takes a village to get the job done, and it takes a local neighborhood paper to be concerned with what goes on in our backyard,” Ivan Arguello, co-owner (with Enrico Palazio) of Montague Street’s Key Food told the Eagle.

Another Montague Street merchant, Estela Johanneson, owner of James Weir Florist, told the Eagle, “Thank you, thank you! Your reporting brought attention to this problem, and now they are gone.”

Johanneson said the illegal tree peddlers had put their equipment in some of the tree pits next to their stand and ignored her when she asked them to remove the junk. Now that they have departed, “I will get to work decorating the tree pits and make Montague Street beautiful for Christmas!” she said.

‘Who are these people?’

Estela Johanneson, owner of James Weir Florist, was relieved the illegal Christmas tree vendors were finally evicted from Montague Street. Now that they are gone, “I will get to work decorating the tree pits and make Montague Street beautiful for Christmas!” she said. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle

On Dec. 1, the Eagle first broke the story, reporting that the Canadian tree vendor had illegally taken up the sidewalk in front of 121-125 Montague St. (the site of the now-shuttered Ann Taylor Loft) without permission from the owner or property manager.

Key Food’s Arguello told the Eagle that he became alarmed when he observed his own store’s name on the tree vendor’s tax permit.

“Who are these people?” Arguello asked. “They put my name at risk. God forbid something happens. They have a gas generator.”

The tree vendor’s wooden hut displayed a “Temporary Certificate of Authority” from the NYS Department of Taxation and Finance, issued to Key Food and dated 2020. Later, the vendor covered up the name of Key Food by taping a piece of paper over the letters. But he left the certificate hanging on the hut.

When asked about the certificate, one of the women employees operating the stand told the Eagle, “We’re waiting for a new one.”

When asked why the peddler was using a certificate issued to Key Food, she said, “This company used to be at Key Food.”

Johanneson’s flower shop is down the block from where the illegal stand had set up.  She told the Eagle last week that she had politely asked the tree peddler to not sell wreaths, which are her biggest sales item during the month before Christmas.

“I have nothing against anyone selling Christmas trees,” she said. “Just not my number one item, which they are not authorized to sell anyway.”

“They laughed in my face,” Johanneson said.

Ivan Arguello, the owner of a nearby Key Food told the Brooklyn Eagle that he was alarmed that the Christmas tree vendor was using his store’s name on its state tax certificate. Soon afterwards, the vendor taped a piece of paper over the name of Key Food, but left the document hanging on its hut. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle

Midwood Management is the property manager of 121-125 Montague St. “We were not contacted by this vendor, but are aware of the situation,” a spokesperson for Midwood had told the Eagle.

The tree stand operated around the clock, with employees sleeping in a white truck parked in front of the property. One of the women operating the tree stand had claimed the police did not ask them to leave.

“They spoke with our boss. The BID told us to leave, then they spoke with the police and the police came and we spoke with the police, and our boss spoke with the police. The police came and they didn’t tell us to leave.”

Numerous complaints to numerous agencies

Worried about the anonymous peddlers using his store’s name on their tax permit, Arguello said he complained to the Montague BID, and the BID complained to the 84th Precinct. He also put in a complaint to 311. He said he was originally told, “No one can do anything.”

Chura from the Montague BID also complained to the 84th Precinct and contacted Councilmember Lincoln Restler.

Councilmember Restler told the Eagle that he had engaged with the Police Department’s vending unit and, in light of the questions regarding the tax certificate, would be bringing the complaint to the NYC Department of Consumer and Worker Protection.

According to the state Department of Taxation and Finance, a sales tax Certificate of Authority cannot be transferred to another business. “If you are buying an existing business, or taking over the ownership of a family business, you must apply for your own Certificate of Authority,” the state warns on its website. Fines can range up to $10,000.

The Eagle reached out several times to the 84th Precinct, but did not receive a response by press time.

A worker at the Christmas tree stand said that after complaints, her boss had applied for a new state tax certificate. Using another company’s certificate is illegal, with fines ranging up to $10,000. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle

Montague is a ‘restricted street’ 

Montague Street is one of the few “restricted streets” in Brooklyn, Montague BID’s Chura told the Eagle.

According to New York City law, peddlers are allowed to sell and display Christmas trees on many city sidewalks during the month of December, as long as they receive permission from the site owners and follow a few other requirements.

However, Montague Street is one of a handful of city streets which does not allow peddlers, including Christmas tree vendors. (The other restricted streets in Brooklyn include Mermaid Avenue between West 17th and West 37th streets, and Avenue U between Coney Island Avenue and Stuart Street.)

“It takes a village to get the job done,” said Key Food co-owner Ivan Arguello, relieved that the illegal tree vendor was finally asked to leave. The Canadian vendor had been using a tax permit bearing the name of Key Food, which greatly alarmed Arguello. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle

On Sunday after the vendor departed, Johanneson said that this paper’s article had attracted the attention of NBC, which sent a reporter to Brooklyn the next day. NBC interviewed the same merchants that the Eagle had interviewed and posted a similar story.

Without the story in a community paper like the Eagle, Arguello said, the issue never would have gotten the attention it did. “The force behind this was the local merchants fighting for the neighborhood. The people spoke.”

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