GREENPOINT — After a jubilant start selling dozens of water bottles, swimsuits and locks from their stand outside McCarren Pool, two impassioned Vietnam veterans said they already felt threatened by the swim season's second morning: more vendors came crowding their territory.
"We have priority, Vietnam War veterans have priority to vend. We earned it," said Donald (who declined to give his last name), 62, who said he served in the Marines 1968 — 1970 and claimed he had first dibs on the closest spot by the popular pool. "The [other vendors] can't set up here...It'd be unfair. They've got water and we sell water."
So when Oddfellows Ice Cream arrived with several tables and another McCarren Park ice cream vendor set up on the same block, Donald went to cops to straighten up the apparent infractions. Oddfellows had set up too close to the pool, he said, and only two vendors could sell on the same block, he noted of city rules.
"It's about the money, they're trying to make money," Donald said. "We just want our rights."
At the veterans' urging, police officers and Parks Department staff cracked down on the other stands by telling Oddfellows to move farther away from the pool entrance and the other vendor to leave the block entirely. Cops said Oddfellows did have a permit from the Parks Department but could not "obstruct the entrance" of the pool, and that the other vendor was only licensed to sell across the street.
"We've got to straighten things up from the start so we don't end up having a lot of illegal vendors coming from Bedford Avenue," said Officer Steve Truglio, the 94th Precinct's community affairs officer, who claimed there was a significant illegal vending problem on the popular street.
Staff from Oddfellows Ice Cream declined to comment on their stands, but the independent McCarren Park vendor Joy Shil said he had been confused about how far his permit extended, since he usually sold food at the nearby track.
"I thought I could come here," said the vendor Joy Shil, who moved when asked by cops.
But Donald's colleague Nathaniel (who also declined to give his last name) said the other vendors "knew better" and could have "done the right thing." And he demanded that the city continue to crack down all summer on vending infractions around the pool.
"We risked our lives for this country," he said. "They owe us this right."