Vendors Oppose Flushing Restrictions

Vendors protesting outside City Hall before a vote to restrict their activities in Flushing. (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

[The following is a condensed version a story that appeared in Sing Tao Daily.]

A bill introduced by City Council member Peter Koo to restrain vendors on the sidewalks of downtown Flushing passed the council by 40-8 on Sept. 26. Some vendors from Flushing gathered at the gate of City Hall before the Council’s meeting to protest against the bill. They say it will “smash their rice bowl” – shut off their way of making a living.

Koo’s bill, aiming at alleviating sidewalk congestion caused by vendors and air pollution caused by BBQ food carts, proposes to ban food vendors on the sidewalks of many streets in downtown Flushing from noon to midnight every day, and to ban all vendors in the heart of the neighborhood defined by Union Street on the east, College Point Avenue on the west, Northern Boulevard on the north, and Sanford Avenue on the south.

Koo said the problems brought by vendors on sidewalks have been bothering Flushing residents and businesses for many years. He vowed to solve the problems before he is termed out from the City Council.

“This is my last term, and I want to do something that can really help the community,” Koo said. He said he understands the vendors’ need to make a living, but thought they could move to streets with fewer pedestrians such as Maple Avenue. “There are less than 20 BBQ vendors in downtown Flushing, but more than 100,000 pedestrians on the streets every day,” said Koo. “We cannot sacrifice the interests of the general public for the interests of a small group.”

Vendors from Flushing won’t take it. Ms. Liu, who has been selling BBQ on 39th Avenue for eight years, said if the city had allocated an area for the vendors to do business before Koo’s bill was passed, she would have no problem with it. But without such a designated area, the ban will simply push all the vendors out of business. “How we are going to raise our kids and support our families?” she said.

“They don’t like the smoke from the BBQ carts. But my cart doesn’t make smoke. Why am I banned too?” asked Mr. Cheng, who has been selling mini cakes on 39th Avenue for five years. He said Koo claimed he was trying to beautify Flushing by proposing the bill, but in fact he is just trying to push vendors, who are at the bottom of society, out of Flushing. “Some restaurants in Flushing emit stronger smoke than the BBQ carts. Why doesn’t he regulate them?”

Council member Brad Lander was one of the eight council members who voted no on the bill. He said the city needs a comprehensive plan to regulate vendors rather than do it piecemeal. With many other proposals including increasing the vendor permits stagnant, it is not fair to just ban vendors in certain areas.

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