By Sonja Sharp and Julie Shapiro
FINANCIAL DISTRICT — Food vendors who have been displaced from their usual Wall Street spots for nearly seven weeks finally returned Thursday morning, after the city removed some of the barricades designed to protect the area from the Occupy Wall Street protests.
One of the first vendors to come back was Ali Hafizi, 29, a New Jersey resident who parked his Good Morning America coffee and pastry cart at Wall Street between Broad and William streets.
Hafizi was glad to be back on Wall Street after losing 75 percent of his business at a temporary spot around the corner for the past seven weeks, but he was worried about whether his former regulars would return as well.
"It’s better, but still a lot of people are coming from other directions and [are] used to buying from someone else," Hafizi said. "It’s going to take time — it hurts bad."
Hafizi said he hopes the barricades stay down, otherwise he doesn't know how he and his fellow vendors will pay their bills and support their families.
"If they do it [put the barricades back up] this time, I think I'll protest too," he said. "I'll protest the protesters."
The NYPD first removed the metal barricades from Wall and Broad streets around noon on Wednesday, following an outcry from local residents, politicians and businesses, particularly the Milk Street Cafe at 40 Wall St., whose owner said the barricades had cut his sales by 30 percent and forced him to lay off 21 workers.
But by Wednesday evening, just hours after politicians celebrated the removal of the barricades, the police put them back up in response to an Occupy Wall Street march on NYPD headquarters.
The police then removed some of the barricades early Thursday morning, clearing most of the Milk Street Cafe's block of Wall Street between Broad and William streets, which allowed the vendors to return for the first time.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Thursday morning that the NYPD would continue modifying the barricades based on the movements of the Occupy Wall Street protesters.
"Taken down, people march in the streets, put up," Bloomberg said at an unconnected press event Thursday. "We'll try again."
Sal Salem, 35, a pretzel vendor from Harlem, said he blamed the police and the city, not the protesters, for displacing him for the past seven weeks.
"We haven't been working for the last two months," Salem said Thursday, explaining that he tried to move to a new spot around the corner but got four $1,000 tickets.
"No one gives a damn about us."
Despina Levils, a hot dog vendor from Astoria, Queens, also didn't have any luck when she tried moving her cart a few blocks away.
"It wasn't busy," Levils said Thursday morning as she returned to her Wall Street location.
"My customers are here. My customers are so happy to see me here. If they see me, they're going to come back."
At the Milk Street Cafe Thursday morning, the owners and staff were pleased to see the barricades partially gone but were still concerned about the future.
"It's better than it was," owner Marc Epstein said. "[But] it's not good."
Epstein said the most important thing is for the police to keep the neighborhood safe, but he hopes that the protesters and police can work together to eliminate the need for any of the barricades.
"As long as everything’s peaceful, we hope they’ll stay down," said Beth Epstein, Marc's wife.
"We’re cautiously optimistic."
Jill Colvin contributed reporting.