Volume 16 • Issue 40 | March 5 - 11, 2004

Downtown reacts to W.T.C. vendor law

By Elizabeth O’Brien

Downtown Express photo by Ramin Talaie

Souvenir stands like this one near the World Trade Center site will not be allowed under a state bill expected to become law March 5.

Downtowners on both sides of the selling tables had strong reactions to the ground zero vending ban approved by lawmakers on Monday, March 1.

“This is huge—I’m thrilled,” said Liz Berger, a member of Community Board 1 and resident of lower Broadway, which would become vendor-free under the new law.

The vending restrictions will take effect immediately after Governor George Pataki signs the bill into law, which he is expected to do within a few days. Part of the bill restores controls on vending that lapsed last year, crowding sidewalks particularly in Midtown as peddlers flocked to streets where they had once been banned.

But the prohibition on peddling around the World Trade Center site is a new addition to the city’s vending regulations: it would ban vending from the north side of Vesey St. to the south side of Liberty St. and from the west side of West St. to the east side of Broadway. In addition, it would ban selling on the Canyon of Heroes tickertape parade route, Broadway between Murray St. and Battery Pl., and on Park Row between Ann and Spruce Sts.

“I think it’s a great thing for our community, and it’s long overdue,” said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was active in the negotiations leading up to the bill. Silver said the legislation recognizes the W.T.C. site as “sacred ground” while striking a good balance between the rights of residents, business owners and disabled veteran vendors, a specially protected group.

Although the law would increase the number of permits issued to disabled veterans from 60 to 105 over three years, even veterans would be banned from selling around ground zero. Licensed peddlers around the trade center site said the bill wasn’t looking after their best interests.

“What little we have, they’re taking it away from us,” said Jose Ortiz, a disabled veteran who peddles hats and other items on the corner of Church and Dey Sts. “This is my best therapy to tell you the truth, mingling with people.”

A veteran of the Lebanon peacekeeping mission in the early 1980s, Ortiz sells playing cards of Saddam Hussein and other former Iraqi leaders, but on a recent Wednesday did not appear to have merchandise relating specifically to Sept.11, 2001. Ortiz’s partner, Eugene Chernov, said on a good day of work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. the men make from $200 to $300 between them.

All vendors must report their sales tax, said Dina Improta, a spokesperson for the city Department of Consumer Affairs.

Vendors disputed the widely held notion that they were driving business from nearby stores.

“If we were taking business from them, it means they have to close, and I don’t see anyone closing,” said a 50-year-old Vietnam veteran who declined to give his name, who was selling items at the corner of Church St. and Trinity Pl. that included several books of 9/11 pictures.

The owner of a clothing store on Dey St. said even though his merchandise is similar to that sold by Ortiz and Chernov, he doesn’t view the vendors as competition.

“I have no problem with those people—they don’t deflect my business,” said Nemer Reda, owner of Stylz clothing store at 2 Dey St.

For many, however, the issue extends well beyond economics.

Norene Sullivan, 39, lost her brother Tom on Sept. 11, 2001. Tom, 38, was having breakfast at Windows on the World that morning, and his remains have not been found, Sullivan said.

Sullivan, of North Arlington, N.J., said she has confronted vendors selling graphic images of the Twin Towers’ collapse, but her pleas were often met with insensitivity.

“It hurt so much, and a lot of people don’t understand,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said she was glad the ground zero vending ban had passed and voiced hopes that it would be vigorously enforced.

Ray Santiago, a technician from Buffalo, N.Y. staying at the Millenium Hotel, said while he would not like to see vendors directly on the W.T.C. site, he felt the corner of Church and Dey Sts. was an appropriate location for a selling table. He bought a Yankees sweatshirt from Ortiz, saying it was the perfect weight for Wednesday’s balmy weather.

“As for disrespect, I think it would be people who are building on top of that,” Santiago said, gesturing to the pit across the street.

Carl Weisbrod, president of the Downtown Alliance, which runs a business improvement district, supported the parameters of the ground zero vending ban.

“This is a religious site for many people,” Weisbrod told Downtown Express. He said stores selling W.T.C. memorabilia in the proposed retail on the site were different from tables on the sidewalk, since people could choose to enter stores or not and the merchandise was not “in your face.”

Yousif Salih, a disabled Navy veteran selling on Broadway across from Trinity Church, was surprised the ground zero vending ban extended all the way to Broadway. Salih peddles socks, ties, batteries, and other items to a largely local clientele. He didn’t know the new regulations applied to him until approached by Downtown Express.

When asked where he would go, Salih said, “I really don’t know yet. I have to find a place.”

Berger of C.B. 1 said she was counting the days until she and her family would no longer have to “run the gauntlet” past the nine vendors who typically set up shop on her block.

Berger called vending, “the most disruptive quality of life issue for this part of Lower Manhattan.”

In December, Community Board 1 members passed a resolution urging lawmakers to resolve their differences and agree to new legislation restricting where vendors were permitted. The resolution stated, “The proliferation of street vendors has long been a serious problem in Community Board 1.”



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