Monday, August 31, 2009

Vendors Met Their Match?

We have been saying all along that the city's vending oversight regime is both a farce and a disgrace-and is badly in need of a complete overhaul. We assumed, prematurely it seems, that the exposé in the NY Post last June would have jump started some curative action on the part of the city. So far? Zilch!

But it just might be that there is some hope on the horizon. Why? Well, it seems that there is a vending problem right in front of the Metropolitan Museum-only a few short blocks from the Bloomberg estate. As the Post reports, the mayor has finally gotten outraged by a problem that has been vexing store owners for his entire tenure with no response out of city hall: "Street vendors are engaged in "fraud" when they cynically hire disabled veterans to skirt permit regulations, Mayor Bloomberg said yesterday as he commented on the increasingly bitter food fight in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art."

How are they doing this? "Only truly disabled vets have the right to set up shop anywhere, according to a 19th-century post-Civil War law, but some epicurean entrepreneurs have taken to hiring them as cover." We're shocked-not at the fraud-but at the fact that the mayor has taken eight years to come out of his coma on this issue; and why hasn't he done something when the Post highlighted how peddlers were using dead people to get permits that they later sold for tens of thousands of dollars?

As the paper told us in June: "The hot dog you just bought from a food cart may have been sold by a dead man. The city is investigating a racket where scammers pretend to be vendors who have died or left the country. The crooks pay $200 renewal fees for the lucrative permits -- which should have been returned to the city -- in the name of the vendors. And then they either operate the carts themselves or lease the permits for thousands of dollars."

We have complained about the fact that fruit peddlers are operating multiple carts in violation of the one man, one cart rule-along with the fact that the peddlers routinely operate carts in front of existing food stores and flout the rules on size, storage, cleanliness and location. And the problem lies with the city's archaic and lax enforcement regime that cares not one wit about the tax paying store owners who are getting ripped off.

As we pointed out almost four years ago:

"What is really galling for store owners is the fact that these peddlers, having none of a store's significant overhead, are able to siphon business from the markets by underselling the legitimate businesses. We even have anecdotes of store customers coming in to upbraid store managers because of the store's "rip-off" prices. Supermarkets, particularly in Manhattan, pay exorbitant rents and the concomitant property taxes are astronomical. These are the taxes that the city needs to pay for all of its vital services. It is simply unconscionable for peddlers to be allowed to in essence steal the legitimate business from store owners.We are asking the administration to vigorously enforce the law and we have petitioned the City Council to examine ways to toughen enforcement. If nothing is done to interrupt this trend pretty soon the street vendors will be replicating a supermarket's entire inventory. If you think that this is far-fetched then go to 86th Street between 1st and 3rd Avenues to see the bazaars already in operation."

But Bloomberg's huffing and puffing on the veteran vendor fraud masks the failure of his administration to act to remedy an entire vending system that is rife with fraud; and, making a bad situation worse, with no real enforcement mechanisms that are effective or make any sense. What has taken them so long to respond?

The following from the Post story highlights Bloomberg's asleep at the switch nonfeasance: "Bloomberg was reacting to a Post report yesterday highlighting the case of Pasang Sherpa, who defaulted on his $642,000 city contract to operate a hot dog stand in front of the Met. He returned later with disabled Vietnam vet Leo Morris Jr. -- whom he paid $100 a day to stay nearby, Morris told The Post. Disabled veterans do not need a special permit to operate in front of the Met. "Maybe he's just catching up on his memos now," Vietnam vet Dan Rossi, 69, quipped about Bloomberg. He said he's been complaining to City Hall for years about what he called "rent-a-vets."

Maybe Bloomberg should call 311? The entire vending apparatus is in need of an extreme makeover-and if the mayor goes back to sleep after his assumed re-election, then it will be up to the city council to get a better handle on the out-of-control problem. Maybe we need a march of store owners and workers on 79th Street to get Bloomberg's attention.