Yusuf Aydin says he is just trying to make an honest day’s living.
The 58-year-old Turkish fruit vendor, who works on Continental Avenue between Queens Boulevard and Austin Street in Forest Hills, has been arriving to that location everyday at 8 a.m. for the past two months. When he gets there, he helps unpack a truck carrying bananas, grapes, strawberries and other fruit that come from the Hunts Point Market in the Bronx and sell for a discounted price.
“I understand [stores] pay market price, but this is a free market,” Aydin said. “You sell them for $4; I sell them for $3. You sell them for $3; I sell them for $2.”
Aydin’s fruit stand is one of several food carts that have made their home on the one block stretch in Forest Hills and has residents fuming about their harmful impact on the community and local businesses. So much so, City Councilmember Melinda Katz, who represents the neighborhood, is trying to draft legislation that would ban the stands altogether.
“It’s in its infant stages, and we’re working with the consumer affairs department to see if it can happen,” said James McClelland, a spokesperson for Katz.
Several stands set up regularly on the street, including a Halal meat vendor, two fruit stands run by the same owner situated on either side of the street, and two Nuts4Nuts carts, which arrived on the block last week. Most of the stands have been set up for several weeks.
Also on the block are a Duane Reade, a Chase bank branch, a Starbucks and several independent establishments including pizza and bagel shops.
The street vendors are currently within their legal rights to set up shop, according to a June 22 inspection by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Licensed street vendors wear identification cards and are allowed to set up anywhere in the city that is not a restricted zone.
However, two of the stands already received several tickets for health code violations during the recent inspection. The tickets were issued for setting up too close to the entrance of a store, taking up more than 10 feet on the street, food items not being stored properly under the cart, food not being kept at a proper temperature and vending without a license.
Many Forest Hills residents traversing Continental Avenue recently expressed aversion to the new fixtures.
“I think Forest Hills is starting to take on some of the less desirable problems that Manhattan has,” said Michael Ferstendig, 54, a dentist with an office in Forest Hills. “There’s a trash problem on the avenue, and this is going to make it worse. It’s also going to impede pedestrian traffic.”
Leslie Brown, president of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce, said her office has received numerous complaints about the carts.
“Although street vendors add to the flavor of the city,” Brown said, “there are appropriate places for them and inappropriate places, and Continental Avenue in Forest Hills is an inappropriate place for many reasons.”
Brown said the fruit carts litter the street with boxes and that their produce truck, parked next to one of the stands for most of the day, prevents delivery trucks from stopping on the street. Above all, she said, the stands change the character of the block.
“It cheapens the neighborhood,” said Angela, an executive assistant from Forest Hills who did not want to give her last name. “It became like a market.”
However, not everyone is aware of the stands or sees them as a threat to the neighborhood.
“I’ve noticed that guy always had fresh fruit,” said Yaffa Kuflik, 24, pointing to one of the fruit stands. “You pick up some fruit, you get a bag of nuts to snack on - what’s so bad about that?”
Fruit stand vendor Aydin agrees.
“It’s good, fresh, cheap,” he said. “But the businessmen - they don’t like us.”
How Vendors are Licensed
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DoHMH) provides that anyone who wants to sell food on the street obtain a vendor license.
Vendors must obtain one license for themselves and one for their vehicles. The cost of these licenses varies from $10 to $75. There can only be 3,200 two-year licenses and 1,000 seasonal licenses (valid April 1 to October 31) in use at any given time.
Carts cannot occupy more than 10 feet or be located within 20 feet of a building entrance.
Food from carts is held to the same standard as food from other establishments, and vendors’ health code violations could lead to the confiscation of their products and the revoking of their licenses, according to the DoHMH.