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City Sanitation Shuts Down Food Vendors in Queens

The Queens Borough President and AOC are hosting a press conference in response to the treatment of vendors on Corona Plaza

Street food vendors seen in Corona, Queens. Many immigrants.
Corona Plaza food vendors were targeted by armed officers of the Department of Sanitation.
Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Street vendors at Corona Plaza — a Latin American food hub in Queens that’s sometimes home to close to 90 stalls — were targeted by the New York Department of Sanitation last week for alleged hygiene and quality-of-life issues. After vendors without permits were reportedly forced to leave by armed city officers, just a few vendors remained, according to a report by Hell Gate.

The latest in a string of moves to disband street vendors this year, the incident has resulted in protests, with residents asking the city to allow vendors to remain.

New York City claims the raid of the food market was related to “significant issues” regarding sanitation. “As part of the Adams Administration’s commitment to the health, safety, accessibility and cleanliness of our streets, the Department of Sanitation engaged in vending inspections and limited enforcement in Corona Plaza over the last two days. This is a location where recent visits showed significant issues with cleanliness and pedestrian access,” said Vincent Gragnani, a spokesperson for the DSNY, in a statement to Hell Gate.

“Sanitation Police removed five vending setups that were abandoned, all of which have been vouchered and can be claimed by their owners, and issued one summons to a vendor for obstructing the sidewalk,” he said. “We remind all vendors of their legal responsibilities not to leave trash or merchandise behind.”

In 2021, legislation passed in New York to issue 400 street vendor permits a year, in an effort to address the backlog of permitting requests, that fostered a costly “black market” for licensing. Critics, like the Street Vendor Project, a non-profit advocacy group, have argued the city’s measures are still not adequate — too few and slow coming — leaving vendors open to fines and harassment in the meantime.

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards Jr. alongside representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have responded via press release by scheduling a press conference on August 2 at 11 a.m., calling the city’s treatment of Corona Plaza vendors a “heavy-handed” show of enforcement.

“The City of New York has systematically failed our Corona Plaza street vendors for years. These hard-working individuals, many of whom are immigrant women of color,” said Richards Jr. in a statement to Eater, adding that his office had created a task force to focus on Corona Plaza alongside the Street Vendor Project over a year ago. “Which makes it all the more frustrating to see the administration — amidst an asylum seeker crisis, no less — take such chilling actions against these vendors and threaten that progress with little to no warning. The City must work with these vendors, not target them with draconian raids.”

Adams’s interference was a surprise to the Queens Borough President’s office, according to a spokesperson. Eater has reached out to the office of Ocasio-Cortez for comment.

Located in Corona underneath the 7 Train, an area of the borough ravaged by COVID-19 and its effects just three years ago, Corona Plaza’s market represents more than just good food — which on any given day might include esquites or various tacos; Pete Wells at New York Times named it one of New York’s 100 best places to eat in 2023.

For many local residents, the Corona Plaza food stalls are about keeping the money in the community. In an effort to protect themselves and mobilize, over the past year, vendors made the rare move to form La Asociación de Vendedores Ambulantes de Corona Plaza, making it one of the few New York City markets to be independently operated, according to the Times.

“The Corona Plaza vendor association has been working in good faith with multiple city agencies to design the plaza, and the operations, address issues, and do so in a way that’s building community and infrastructure,” said Carina Kaufman-Gutierrez, Street Vendor Project’s Deputy Director. “What we want to see is continued investment from the city into this true example of economic development, that addresses the vibrancy that already existed in the community.”