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Illegal Street Vendors Warned of Imminent Police Crackdown

By Carla Zanoni | December 8, 2011 4:29pm

UPPER MANHATTAN — Police and community leaders are warning illegal street vendors that the days of selling their wares on congested uptown corridors will soon come to an end.

Starting this month, the 34th Precinct has launched an outreach initiative to educate vendors about city rules on vending, while warning them that police will soon remove unlicensed sellers from the street, according to the commanding officer. 

The precinct has targeted areas with high concentrations of illegal vending, such as West 181st and West 207th streets, where dozens of vendors often clog sidewalks selling everything from fruits and vegetables to brand new Nike sneakers. 

Rather than arrest vendors and confiscate their goods, police said they want to first make sure vendors understand the rules before conducting sweeps. 

"It’s not our intent to go out and overnight remove them all by arresting them and taking their property, we first want to educate them," said the 34th Precinct’s Deputy Inspector Barry Buzzetti

Once police are sure the vendors understand that they are breaking the law, the 34th Precinct plans to remove them from the area.

"Even though it's not as serious a violation or crime as a robbery, it’s still a quality of life concern," Buzzetti said.   

Although many leaders and officials agree that street vending has become a problem, few have yet to agree on the exact course of action to clear the streets. 

One solution being discussed is whether to create a designated space where vendors can sell their wares, much like the Plaza de las Americas in Washington Heights, the now defunct Mart 125 in Harlem or even flea markets held in parking lots or school playgrounds throughout the city. 

But elected officials say those options will take time to set in place, and police plan to begin sweeps "very soon," according to Buzzetti.

A previous plan to begin sweeps in the 34th Precinct was placed on hold this summer as elected officials and community leaders began working with police to identify the best course of action to reduce the vending. 

The problem of illegal street vending is currently being addressed throughout Inwood and Washington Heights, where officers from the 33rd Precinct have joined the Health Department in conducting a sweep of the lower portion of the neighborhood throughout the year. The latest sweep conducted in October resulted in removing six illegal food vendors from Broadway, between 155th and 168th streets. 

Police recently met with elected officials, including City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez and State Sen. Adriano Espaillat who plan to hold a community meeting with the vendors on Monday to hear the needs and desire of the merchants. The meeting will be co-sponsored by the Urban Justice Center, which heads up the advocacy Street Vendors Project.  

Both leaders have said they are sensitive to the needs of those in the district that resort to illegal vending in the face of few employment opportunities.  

"Northern Manhattan has long debated the role of street vendors, and this past year my office has been, and continues to be, working to find a solution that can meet everyone's needs, from the vendors, to the pedestrians, to the store owners," Rodriguez said in an email. 

Community Board 12 organized a street vendor task force this summer. A census was conducted during the summer and fall and official tallies are expected in coming weeks. 

According to CB12 the number of street vendors has risen dramatically over the past few years and also seems to have increased since the end of summer. 

The issue will likely be discussed at CB12’s general meeting held on Thursday, Dec. 15, at 7 p.m. at the Isabella Geriatric Center, 515 Audubon Avenue at West 190th Street.  

Rodriguez and Espaillat will hold a separate meeting with street vendors on Monday, Dec. 12 at 7 p.m. at I.S. 143, 511 West 182nd St., between Audubon and Amsterdam avenues.