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Residents Wait for Empire State Building Hawker Crackdown to Take Effect

By Jill Colvin | September 28, 2011 5:03pm

MIDTOWN — Locals looking for relief from an Empire State building virtual reality ride’s aggressive ticket-hawkers will have to wait a little longer.

While State Supreme Court Judge Donna Mills ruled last week that employees selling tickets to the NY Skyride had been breaking the law by selling tickets without a vendors’ license, city officials say it could still take days or even weeks before the city will be able to enforce the law.

"Although we learned of the favorable decision yesterday, the formal court order effectuating that decision has yet to be filed,” said Gabriel Taussig, chief of the Administrative Law Division at the city’s Law Department, in a statement.

"Once the order is filed, the City can resume enforcement,” he said, noting than an appeal could further delay the process if it comes with a request to continue a restraining order that has been in place barring police from intervening.

Attorney Randy Mastro, who is representing Skyride’s operator, maintains that ticket agents are exempt from the city’s vending rules and said he planned to appeal.

In the meantime, Skyride employees are free to continue with business as usual until owners and police are notified that the rules have changed.

On Wednesday morning, about half a dozen hawkers in their signature blue shirts were at work trying to sell the tickets to the ride in front of the Empire State Building, waving down tourists with their signature “Going up? Going up?” pitch.

While the sellers have been a staple for years, they have also earned the ire of many local residents, building managers and office workers, who complain they are constantly harassed by the vendors, who block the sidewalks and swarm groups of tourists trying to convince them to take the ride.

A spokesman for Skyline, which operates Skyride, has said the company had never received a single local community complaint until the case came before the judge.

Instead, owners blame the powerful Malkin family, which owns the landmarked building, for pressuring a police crackdown in an effort to force the ride to leave the building.

Still, some employees said Wednesday they are concerned about the impending police action.

“I can’t afford to go jail,” said one hawker, who declined to give his name out of fear of reprisal from the company, which has barred employees from speaking to the press.

The lawsuit came after police arrested six ticket agents and issued 14 summonses over the course of eight weeks, beginning last April, for illegal vending, according to court records.

It is still unclear how the ruling will impact other companies' ticket-vendors, who also sell tickets on the streets.

Some defended the practice Wednesday, arguing that they provide an important public service: offering directions to lost tourists.

"A lot of the people around the city don't know how to move from one avenue to another," said Mohamed Misbaitu, 35, of CitySights NY.

"Sometimes we're really helping them. And we're doing it for free."

Tuan Nguyen contributed reporting.