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Street Vendor's Spat With Senator Over Sidewalk Space Goes Viral in Queens

By Katie Honan | September 18, 2017 3:44pm
 Sen. Jose Peralta said he was trying to help a street vendor as other accused him of discrimination.
Sen. Jose Peralta said he was trying to help a street vendor as other accused him of discrimination.
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

CORONA — A long-simmering feud over street vendors commandeering too much sidewalk space has become even more charged after video of a heated exchange between State Sen. Jose Peralta and a fruit seller went viral.

While the video has been viewed more than 178,000 times on Facebook, brick-and-mortar store owners nearby say the clip doesn't show the whole story. The senator, they say, was just trying to help with a years-long problem brewing on a crowded block of Roosevelt Avenue.

Peralta, who has supported expanding the cap on street vendor permits, was visiting businesses in his district Wednesday when a few store owners complained about the stand, which stretches along the north side of Roosevelt Avenue near 97th Street.

The vendors have waged a "war" with storefronts and other carts, business owners say — expanding to take over more of the sidewalk with fruits and vegetables sold from tables and boxes.

"Nobody from Sanitation, nobody from police, nobody from [Department of Transportation] comes by," Ana Valencia, 26, who works at a cell phone kiosk inside a storefront just feet from the stand, said days after the video was posted. "We lose money and customers."

She asked Peralta to try and speak with the street vendors, giving him a petition signed by the seven other business owners renting kiosks at 96-15 Roosevelt Ave., just feet from the fruit stand.

As he spoke to the seller, telling her she was at risk for a summons, a woman walking by began filming.

"Why did you single her out, because she's a woman?," Carmen Edwards, who recorded the interaction, said in the video.

"I said to her that I wanted to help this situation," Peralta said. "This is illegal. ... I'm trying to solve this."

Edwards, who filmed the video, declined to talk to DNAinfo New York on Monday.

The video, posted to Facebook on Wednesday, has been shared more than 4,000 times — and the woman filming can be heard accusing the senator of discriminating against the vendor and trying to ruin an immigrant business.

Comments posted on the video say the senator — who has been under fire after joining the Independent Democratic Conference last winter — is anti-immigrant, calling him an "a*****e" and a "piece of s**t."

But Peralta said he was just trying to help, noting his work in the state senate to improve conditions and opportunities for street vendors, whose carts and stands are plentiful in his district.

"Sen. Peralta received complaints from local businesses about food vendors operating on the street, and he tried to intervene to come up with a solution beneficial for both the small businesses and vendors," his spokesman wrote in a statement sent to DNAinfo.

"Instead of calling an agency and having a fine issued, Sen. Peralta took the time to speak to the vendors and it is unfortunate that a passerby did not understand what he was attempting to do."

Sean Basinski, of The Street Vendor Project at the Urban Justice Center, said he didn't see Peralta harassing anyone in the video. 

"[Peralta] was encouraging her to comply with the regulations, which this vendor in particular has a reputation for flouting, to the detriment of other vendors," he wrote in a statement. 

"Sen. Peralta has a history of supporting street vendors in his district and across the city. We appreciate him working with vendors and other community stakeholders to resolve local conflicts such as this."

Street vendors are allowed 10 feet by 5 feet of space — with all merchandise kept either on or under the table.

This vendor has expanded beyond the tables, adding aisles of fruits and vegetables.

Valencia said she and other business owners have called the police and 311 to complain about the vendors for at least five years — saying they've carved out more and more space on the sidewalk.

They not only block most of the sidewalk, their trucks — which are parked for more than 12 hours on the street — block the view of potential customers from across the street, the letter says.

"You can not walk in the block from Junction Boulevard to 98th Street — they do not comply with [the] rule of 20 feet away with every business," the letter says.

Miriam Moran — a sister of Valencia who has a perfume kiosk inside the storefront — said the vendors don't want to compromise with the stores.

"It keeps getting worse and worse," she said. "Since nobody can remove them, they keep moving and moving, and growing and growing.

All these years we tried to talk to them so many times," Valencia added. 

"They don't care. It's a war."

Seller Arcangela Molina — whose sister, Virginia Corona, spoke with Peralta in the video and declined to speak to DNAinfo — said they can't keep all of their produce confined to their tables and still make money. 

"Once you move - if you keep putting everything in the table, we can't sell everything," she said, waving at the dozens of different fruits and vegetables sold from tables, milk cartons and boxes.

The setup is noticeably larger than other fruit and vegetable stands, but she said complaints mostly come from the stores within a few feet from them, and not customers.

They received around 30 tickets a year — but they just pay them off and continue selling. 

"We want to sell everything but with just the tables we can't sell nothing," she said.