Following a recent visit by Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) and the police to Main Street, nearly a dozen vendors and merchants with sidewalk stands were warned that they were illegally blocking pedestrians.
The surprise inspection followed a Queens Chronicle story late last month about concern raised at a 109th Precinct Community Council meeting. Residents and visitors had called for a ban on the sidewalk stands — both legal and illegal — citing the danger of having to walk in the streets with traffic.
By law, merchants need to obtain what is called a “stoop line stand” license, which allows them to display items up to five feet in front of their stores. In an earlier story, the Queens Chronicle reported that in a half-mile stretch along Main Street, 25 shops had sidewalk stands, but just 10 displayed licenses, of which at least two had expired.
Koo said if the law enforcement agencies can’t do the job, he’s prepared to introduce a bill banning vendors along Main Street between Northern Boulevard and Sanford Avenue, similar to the ones on Austin Street in Forest Hills.
“My concern is that a lot of the building owners are renting out sidewalk space for profit,” Koo said.
He singled out Flushing Golden Shopping Mall on 41st Road for criticism. Merchants rent hole-in-the-wall stalls along the side of the building from the mall and peddle goods like pirated one-dollar DVDs, bonsais and leather shoes on the sidewalk. The manager of the mall had previously claimed the vendors are supposed to settle their own licenses — he only rents out the space to them.
“I mean, how can you rent out wall space, pedestrian space?” he asked. “And in the process you create a lot of congestion and people have nowhere to walk.”
One vendor told Koo he pays $2,000 a month for the wall space.
“These businesses, they’ve been there for a long time, and they pay rent to the landlord, so they think they’re legal,” Koo said. He added that he wants the Department of Consumer Affairs to control the vendors.
The DCA said in an email that since 2010 they have conducted 168 inspections of sidewalk stands in Community Board 7, which includes downtown Flushing, and have issued 75 notices of violation. As for general street vending, DCA said enforcement is carried out by the local NYPD precinct, while the Health Department regulates food vendors.
A similar problem exists under the Long Island Rail Road bridge between 40th Road and 41st Avenue, where a food stand vendor hawks steamed buns and other Chinese finger food on one side, and a vendor sells DVDs out of the concrete wall on the other. The retail space is leased from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. During rush hours, a bottleneck always forms and forces people to walk in the streets.
“People line up to buy food from the food stand, and some stand there and eat,” said Koo.
The councilman also pointed to 40th Road as being particularly crowded due to a fruit stall with a line of produce on crates that takes up one-third of the sidewalk space.
He expects the DCA to work with the police “soon” to conduct another sweep operation.
“But the DCA has not been active,” Koo said. “They are complaint-oriented: when they receive a specific complaint, they will go to that place.”