It seems to us at the Alliance that the city has a plan to reduce the number 0f supermarkets and other food retailers in town. We say this because there has been absolutely no effort to cut down on the wave of food peddlers that are brazenly setting up directly in front of the city's supermarkets and grocery stores. In the process, hundreds of thousands of dollars are being siphoned away from tax paying retailers.
The latest in a series of fiascos took place yesterday on the corner of 115th Street and Broadway. In an attempt to do something to protect his business Morton Williams, owner of the adjacent MortonWilliams Associated Supermarket, place a "first amendment" table right in the spot that a persistent fruit peddler has staked out in an attempt to intercept the traffic that the market itself generates.
What did the peddler do? Why he called the police and along came Officer Harper who told the store manager to remove his table because "this vendor has a permit for 115th Street and Broadway." In the process the officer, acting on what impulse we have no idea, violated two sections of the municipal code.
There is no food vending license in the City of New York that is site-specific. In addition, in any area where vending is permitted first amendment vendors have an absolute right to set up shop on the street. What motivated Officer Harper? It certainly wasn't a respect for the law.
There's a larger issue here. It is the total disrespect that too many of our elected officials have for hard-working, tax paying, store owners. This is the mindset that encourages out-of-town farmers to come into the city to take business away from neighborhood retailers.
In fact Community Board #4 in Manhattan has just approved a farmer's market for Tenth Avenue right around the corner from a Food Emporium. Board members told the store rep that the market would increase Food Emporium's business! Clearly economics is not the Board's strong suit but our greater worry is the cavalier disregard for the city's tax base. When all the supermarkets are gone from Hell's Kitchen will the Board pass a resolution calling on the city to incentivize their return?
The romanticizing of the food peddler needs to stop. We have been busy working with members of the City Council in the drafting of legislation that would put these folks under a stricter regulatory structure. The city needs to act on this quickly and, if there is a concern for getting people to eat in a more healthy manner, than it's important to create a partnership between the food stores and the public sector to address the issue.