RED HOOK — The Red Hook Food Vendors have kicked off their 43rd season selling Latin American specialties near the soccer fields in Brooklyn, but their ranks have dwindled to five trucks since most of the nearby fields will remain closed for years due to contamination.
Sales were down about 30 percent to 40 percent last year — driven down by a shrinking customer base as the fields have closed for cleanup, said Marcos Lainez, a representative for the vendors.
"We are down to five vendors," Lainez said. Five others have left in recent years, including the Solber Pupusas. "They all are gone. It was too much and was no longer profitable for them," he said.
The remaining trucks include the Vendy Award winning El Olomega, known for its pupusas; the Ceron Family, who sell Colombian food; and Vaquero Produce, which sells fruit and aguas frescas.
Delicias Poblanas, (formerly known as Piaztlan when it was owned by Eleazar Perez,) is returning this year, as is Huarache King, which was formerly known as Country Boys before it was sold — both under new management, but with the same recipes and products "to keep the consistency of their products the same," Lainez said.
The trucks set up shop near the 58-acre park where school, league and recreational players and their families and friends gathered to play soccer, baseball, softball, track & field and other sports — but the customer base has shrunk since the fields began sporadically shutting down since 2012 when the NYC Parks Department first learned of potential contamination.
The city-financed cleanup is expected to finish in 2022.
"NYC Parks is committed to making sure all parks are safe and healthy environments," a spokeswoman for the department said. "We have been working closely with the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Environmental Protection Agency to test the fields and address historic contamination. As a result, all of the fields will be reconstructed on a staggered timeline to have the least impact on the local community and field users."
NYC Parks and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials have determined the source of the contamination was the Columbia Smelting and Refining Works, which operated in the 1920s and 1930s at the corner of Lorraine and Hicks streets.
Currently, Baseball field 9 (across from the pool) is open, but will close when construction begins in fall 2018. Soccer fields 1 (which has synthetic turf and is located closest to the trucks) is open for play. Also open is the seldom-used soccer field 6 across the street. Those two soccer fields will remain open until reconstruction begins, with an expected completion date of 2022, according to NYC Parks.