Art Vendors Claim They're Being Forced Out of Business by New Law
By Ben Fractenberg
CENTRAL PARK — Street art sellers claim they are being brushed out of city parks under new laws that go into effect Monday.
Manhattan Federal Court last week upheld a city ruling demanding vendors stay within 100 designated areas in Battery Park, High Line Park, Union Square Park and around Central Park.
The move is designed to ease congestion of parks which officials claim is ruining outdoor spaces for visitors.
But the vendors - who don't need a permit to take up a spot in the designated areas - claim the restrictions are a violation of their First Amendment rights.
“The First Amendment is collateral damage for all New Yorkers if this law passes,” said Mitchell Balmuth, 64, who was selling buttons on Fifth Avenue, just below the Metropolitan Museum of Art, on Sunday.
Artists along Central Park said the new rules will make it harder for them to find a new location since there will be a limited number of spaces available on a first come first served basis.
“What can I do if I don’t find a space?” asked Upper West Side resident Niki Cizmic, who was selling his watercolor paintings outside Central Park.
“I’m 57-years-old. It’s not easy for me to get another job.”
Since 2001, when a judge ruled the city couldn't set up a permit system for vendors, sellers of so-called First Amendment
items, including books, paintings and reprints, have packed parks in increasing numbers.
“We are pleased by the court's decision,” said the city's attorney, Mark Muschenheim.
“The court properly recognized that the recently enacted rule reflects a careful balance between the rights of vendors to engage in constitutionally protected activities and the rights of the public to enjoy the city’s parks.”
But Irakli Ebralidze, 40, who was selling pictures close to the Met Sunday, said competition for the limited spaces could put him out of business.
“I have no idea what I’m going to do now,” he said. “I can’t sleep in a car for a spot.”