Perception vs. reality: Study finds western Queens street vendors and storefronts work well together

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Photo: Mark Hallum/QNS

Arguments abounded at a press conference in Corona on Thursday as activists and State Senator Jessica Ramos release the findings of a study which illustrates a friendly rapport between street vendors and brick-and-mortar stores.

The study conducted by Katherine Wheeler was built off interviews with storefront owners and street vendors to measure how closely they work together — despite the perception that the two business models conflict with one another.

“We are here to announce a report that says that our street vendors are an integral part of our economy, that their contributions are so important that they actually end up helping and working with brick-and-mortar businesses in our district,” Ramos said.

The study, Ramos said, supports the City Council’s new initiative to expand the issuance of vendor permits.

“We want to make sure that we are enabling the entrepreneurial spirit of our immigrants and neighbors as much as possible,” Ramos added.

Laura Matute, a street vendor at Roosevelt Avenue and Junction Boulevard, said she has a good relationship with the staff and owners of the adjacent Seba Seba. Matute buys coffee from the corner establishment and they often allow her to use the restroom.

“These people are my friends,” Matute said. “They watch out for me and I watch out for them.”

But not everybody agreed that street vendors do not cause problems for brick-and-mortar businesses.

The news conference was punctuated by arguments between people on the street in which one business owner made the statement that vendors offer unfair competition without the added burden of a monthly rent payment.

Wheeler’s study examined four corridors across the city include the span of Roosevelt Avenue between Jackson Heights and Corona.

“My empirical, on-the-ground research does not in any way support the claim that storefront business view vendors as competitors and or unfair competitors,” Wheeler said.

Mohammed Attia, co-director of the Street Vendor Project at the Urban Justice Center, claimed statements by politicians that street vendors harm brick-and-mortars and is advocating for a bill to overturn a cap on permit issuances set in 1983.

This bill will get a hearing in City Council on April 11.

Meanwhile, Ramos said she is working with newly appointed MTA President Patrick Foye on a pilot program to fill vacancies in retail spaces owned by the agency near the 74th Street – Jackson Heights Station.