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Vendors feel restaurants wrong them

Ten mobile food vendors occupy two sides of sidewalk on Roosevelt Avenue between Warren Street and Junction Boulevard. Three more sell food on Warren Street.

These 13 food vendors and scores more along the busy thoroughfare have been accused by local restaurant owners of circumventing the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s (DOHMH) food vending licensing system, by unlawfully using their licenses in lieu of permits for their mobile pushcarts. However, the Street Workers Union of Queens (SWUQ), which has about 60 members, claims that they do have permission to vend. They feel unfairly targeted.

“Those with permission can sell anywhere in New York,” said Jose Perez, secretary of SWUQ, about the pushcarts on Roosevelt with the citywide emblem. According to DOHMH 2,800 mobile food permits can be used citywide, with 50 restricted only to Queens. “Everyone who’s selling food here lives in this sector.”

SWUQ said that in addition to these accusations, “we are being attacked,” because “we’ve received an infinite number of tickets and on top of the sanitation tickets, the police come and tickets everyone.”

To be sure, DOHMH has “received complaints about illegal vending in this area” and has “followed up with inspections.” They confirmed finding illegal vending.

Irate restaurant owners gathered on Tuesday, June 2 in Corona to discuss their side of situation with representatives from the Department of Consumer Affairs, the Mayor’s Office, and the 115th Precinct. Participants complained neither DOHMH nor the local elected officials had attended.

“I have a ton of problems because business has dropped. First because of the economy and secondly, from the aspect of the street vendors, because they sell the same as me,” said Jose Guzman, owner of the Sagittarius Bakery on Roosevelt and 82nd Street. “[They sell] sandwiches, prepared foods – which I don’t make – but that takes away from me and brings down my business. At the other bus stop there is a girl that sells ice cream. I can’t even sell soda, because they sell soda!”

All of the restaurant owners noted that their rents, property taxes, utilities and insurance fees have increased and that they still have to pay employee salaries, employment tax and worker’s compensation.

However, SWUQ does acknowledge that some vendors don’t have permits, but they insist that the majority do. They welcome an opportunity to dialogue with the restaurant owners and the elected official about the situation on Roosevelt.

“Everyone, because of the economy, blames us,” said Perez, who has sold books on the same spot since 1993-94. “The problem is not that we are taking business away from the other businesses, it’s a funding problem, it’s an economic problem. We have all lost business.”

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