Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Fruity Fighting

The fruit is flying over on Ninth Avenue-and that's not the only thing that's rotten there. Here's the City Room report: "Bulent Unal, 45, has piled his table high with apples, bananas and mangoes on the same bustling stretch of 9th Avenue for years now, weighing and bagging fruit at a frenetic pace for the tourists heading to Times Square and the office workers crowding the sidewalks between 42nd and 43rd Streets. Then, and he gets angry just thinking about it, that guy — he gestures with clenched fists and steaming eyes a short distance away — opened another fruit stand around the corner and down the block, on 43rd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues."

What this fight signifies is the fact that there appears to be little or no enforcement of any of the existing vending rules-and the need for a dramatic overhaul of the regulatory regime must be done soon; or the fists and not the fruit will be flying. But City Room ignores an even more salient fact.

While the vendors continue to duel, a Food Emporium a little more than two blocks away is having its business siphoned off by non rent paying peddlers who have none of the overhead that supermarkets must take care of. And what to make of the following? "In his opinion it violates every tenet of street vending decency. More importantly it was cutting into his business. So he demanded, first politely and then decidedly less so, that the new guy, Eyup Durmus, move on. Mr. Durmus refused, arguing that the two stands were out sight and almost on different avenues. And so the Midtown fruit battle escalated: Mr. Unal opened yet another fruit stand right next to the new guy."

Totally out of control-with one guy-or his family in this case-able to obtain a new cart and go to war with his etiquette violating neighbor: "While some street vendors have worked on the same corner going back decades, any claims to asphalt real estate are actually informal. On blocks open to street vending –- many are not –- the official restrictions are limited to the size of the table, blocking street traffic or standing too close to the entrance of a building or a fire hydrant. There are no prohibitions on setting up near another vendor, indeed even in their spot, though such conflicts are relatively rare."

And all are basically unenforced; and, of course, the street vendors see nothing wrong with setting up directly in front of a supermarket or green grocer-etiquette doesn't extend to the tax paying businesses: "Mr. Durmus, who struggled to generate enough business in previous locations in Greenwich Village, Chelsea and Columbus Circle, said that he was not going to move and was not responsible for the conflict. “All the time he wants to make trouble for us,” he said.
When he found the current spot six weeks ago -– a quieter stretch just off 10th Avenue in front of a Food Emporium — he finally started making good money, he said, until the new stand was set up. (The manager of the Food Emporium, Calvin Dixon, said he had filed a complaint with the city about the location of the new fruit stand, which he said was causing a mess and siphoning customers.)"

No outrage here apparently; but Durmas is nothing if not ironic: "“I’m staying here,” Mr. Durmus said. “I came here first. He came here to bother me.” And as the city's tax receipts continue to free fall, we wonder what the city is going to do to protect its tax base. If history is a guide, nothing at all. The supermarket owners and green grocers are left to wonder: "How do we get included in the Five Borough Economic Plan?"