Volume 23, Number 7| The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | June 25 - July 1, 2010
The Reaction: How the vendors feel
BY Joseph Rearick
On Monday afternoon, tourists streamed through Battery Park and paused momentarily at a few of the dozens of art vendors situated in booths beside the park’s pathways to pour over the New York City-centric paintings, memorabilia and photographs. Vendors greeted them heartily, hoping to make a brisk business in the next few weeks. Come July 19, their means of making a living will completely change.
On that date, city officials are poised to enact drastic limitations on the number of vendors allowed to sell their wares at popular city parks, including Battery Park, Central Park and Union Square Park. The change comes as the result of concern by the Bloomberg administration about overcrowding along park walkways by the host of vendors working across the city. In Battery Park, where more than 50 vendors set up shop each day, the City plans to create nine specific places for vendors to offer what it terms “expressive matter,” like the novelty pictures and paintings of the city that are popular among tourists. The spots will be located along the exterior of the park, away from pedestrian pathways, and made available to the first nine vendors who arrive each morning. Those who arrive too late will be out of luck.
Tsewant Lhawon sells iconic images of the city and various mementoes in Battery Park every day and is furious about the city’s plans.
“Where am I going to go?” he asked. “There’s no solution.”
Like many of his fellow vendors, he fears the fierce competition for the nine legal locations will put an end to his business.
“We are trying to find a different location, but there are so many vendors it doesn’t seem like there are good alternatives,” he explained.
Vlad Tixon, who has been selling his paintings in the park for 17 years, is also extremely frustrated.
“That would put a total stop to my work,” he said. “I will have to quit the thing I’ve been doing for nearly 20 years. The park authorities complain that vendors are blocking the path in this park, and there are people stumbling over vendors’ stuff. But I’ve never seen anything like that. That’s not the truth.”
He proposes an alternate solution, however, to limit the number of vendors.
“My wish is that only artists who created something would be here. Most of the people here have nothing to do with art; they have no art knowledge,” he said. “They just wholesale buy photographs. They just sell the same stuff at many spots.”
Tixon estimates that two-thirds of the park’s vendors sell items they did not create and feels that without their presence, the City government would have no concerns. “People come back here every year to buy more of my paintings and now I won’t be able to be here,” he said.
Two street artists, Robert Lederman and Jack Nesbitt, recently field a suit against the city, claiming the coming restrictions impinge upon their First Amendment rights as artists. Lederman has been here before; he filed and won a lawsuit against the Guiliani administration in 2001 over very similar proposed limitations. Now hundreds of street artists around the city can only hope that his earlier case will serve as ample precedent to protect their businesses.
Asif Javed, who has become something of an impromptu spokesman for the vendors, many of whom speak very little English, said he is “very hopeful about the case” and noted that his and many others’ livelihoods depend upon it.
“It’s like a family,” he said, describing the community of vendors. “No one fights over spots, everything is peaceful.”
He plans to fight for one of the nine spots on July 19 simply because he has no other choice. “I have to come. Right now, I have nowhere to go. With my work, I feel free. I like to work for myself; I take my own photographs. I really don’t understand why this is happening.”
Recently, the police showed up at the park to officially notify the vendors of the City’s plans. Javed asked the police to try and put themselves in the vendor’s shoes. “I asked, ‘What if sixty guys show up for nine spots? What happens then?’ All they said was, ‘I don’t know, police will take care of it.’”