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Illegal Vendors Trashing 207th Street Are Bad for Business, Locals Say

By Lindsay Armstrong | September 24, 2014 4:40pm
 The vendors congregate on a one block stretch of 207th Street between Vermilyea and Sherman avenues.
207th Street Vendors
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INWOOD — Residents and local businesses owners are raising a stink about the growing number of vendors who set up on a busy Inwood street — crowding the sidewalk, drumping trash and creating an ugly obstacle course for patrons.

The vendors line 207th Street between Vermilyea and Sherman avenues selling items like clothing, shoes and small appliances, often secondhand. Many of these hawkers acknowledged operating without permits.

“Whatever is not sold, people just throw to the side and leave,” said Gina Christoforatos, 41. "I understand people are in need right now and making money anyway they can, but this mess is interfering with regular businesses."

Christoforatos, a lifelong Inwood resident who walks through the area on her way to the subway each morning, said she has seen piles of cardboard boxes, trash bags, food containers and discarded items including a high chair and a microwave spilling out into the street.

Robert Lara, a salesman who works at La Antillana supermarket on the same block, said the vendors make the street too crowded, especially on the weekends.

“If you park near the middle of the street on a weekend, you have to come all the way to the corner just to get on the sidewalk to go to the stores,” he said. “They’ve got to do something about this.”

Tania Tavarez, human resources director at La Nacional Corp., a company on the block that deals with money orders and sending international packages, said that the conditions are also bad for business. 

“Visually, it's not the best image for our customers,” she said. 

Other businesses complained that they are racking up fines for trash that does not belong to them.

“All of the garbage, they leave it on the corner and Sanitation gives me a ticket,” said Martin Prado, a manager at La Antillana.

Prado said he was ticketed two or three times in the past month alone for garbage that did not belong to the store, with each summons carrying a fine of $100 to $300.

“We’ve had to pay a lot of money for them,” he said. “I want them to get out of this street.”

The Department of Sanitation did not respond to requests for comment on the situation.

A recent visit to the street revealed more than a dozen vendors set up along the one-block stretch of 207th Street. While a few vendors used tables, most displayed their wares on blankets spread on the ground, a practice that is prohibited by the Department of Consumer Affairs.

Orla, a vendor who did not want to give his full name because he does not have a permit, said that he makes sure to keep his area clean.

“Look at my area. It’s spotless,” said Orla, who works as a porter in a building Downtown and resells items that he gets secondhand from tenants. “I don’t want no complaints because I want to keep coming here.”

However, he did acknowledge that the street can get messy.

“Some people have too much junk,” he said. “There’s guys with too many carts and bags. We need to talk to them about keeping it clean.”

William, another unlicensed vendor, said the problem is that the street has gotten too crowded with vendors coming from all over the city.

“One person comes from maybe Harlem. They tell three people who tell a dozen more people,” he explained. “They don’t live in this area so they don’t respect it."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Consumer Affairs, which licenses street vendors, said inquiries about any problems with vendors should be directed to the NYPD.

A local police source said that the 34th Precinct is aware of the problem and addresses it by arresting unlicensed vendors.

“Our goal is to keep it under control,” the source said.

State Sen. Adriano Espaillat recently sent a letter to the Department of Consumer Affairs, the Department of Transportation and the 34th Precinct to explore the possibility of creating a dedicated space for the vendors to ease congestion and help the city better manage the garbage.

Espaillat outlined two possible solutions, including closing one of the lanes of Sherman Avenue just south of 207th Street on weekends to allow vendors to set up a temporary flea market or creating a permanent pedestrian mall in the same area similar to what has been done in other neighborhoods.

“Providing a space would relieve congestion on the sidewalk, and would also enable the Precinct to enforce vending laws on the sidewalk as there would be a viable alternative vending location,” the letter said.

A spokeswoman from DCA said she was verifying whether or not the agency had received the letter. The DOT did not immediately respond to a request for comment.