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Popular Food Vendor to be Ousted by New WaHI Greenmarket

By DNAinfo Staff on October 19, 2009 3:16pm  | Updated on October 20, 2009 9:04am

By Jon Schuppe

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — After more than a year of debate, the city has settled on the location for a new weekday greenmarket — at the corner of Ft. Washington Avenue and West 168th Street, on the campus of Columbia University Medical Center.

There's only one problem: no one told a popular falafel vendor who's been serving the hospital community for decades.

The decision officially ends efforts to bring a market to Bennett Park, nearly 20 blocks north. More than 1,000 people signed a petition supporting that spot, but Community Board 12 rejected it amid concerns that the park wasn’t large enough. An alternative that would have put the market alongside the park on 185th Street was dropped after some neighbors complained about the impact on parking and access for emergency vehicles.

Ahmed Soliman's popular food cart,
Ahmed Soliman's popular food cart, "Columbia Cafe," has stood at the corner of Fort Washington Avenue and West 168th Street for more than 20 years.
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The 168th Street location is a good compromise, CB 12 member Elizabeth Lorris Ritter said.

Ritter, who chairs the CB12 parks committee that approved the new location last week, said the hospital offers an ideal environment to promote “public health education and good, local food.”

Ahmed Soliman came to the block 23 years ago, after emigrating from Egypt, and is now a corner institution. He leaves his Brooklyn home at 3:30 every morning to make it to the intersection in time to serve egg sandwiches and buttered bagels to hospital workers and patients. His signature lunchtime dishes are falafel sandwiches and chicken gyros.

“How is this going to affect my business? What am I supposed to do?” Soliman, 54, said. “I have children in college.”

The market will be held on Tuesdays, with room for six to 10 vendors, and will start in the spring, but a scaled-down version may begin next month.

A city official told Ritter’s committee last week that Soliman would have to move from the intersection when the greenmarket is there. Ritter said she was disappointed that the city didn’t tell Soliman about the plans.

Falafel vendor Ahmed Soliman stands at his cart,
Falafel vendor Ahmed Soliman stands at his cart, "Columbia Cafe," in Washington Heights, Oct. 16, 2009.
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“It’s a great location, but everybody has to be happy with it,” Ritter said. “Greenmarkets are supposed to work with vendors so it has to work with him, too.”