Illegal vendors and gamblers have taken a shopping strip in the Bronx thanks to a new city law that shifts enforcement responsibilities from the NYPD to an agency that doesn’t have the power to confiscate goods – or even require street vendors to be identified.
“It looks like a bazaar in Istanbul,” says Marko Majic, director of business development at City Jeans on East Fordham Road.
“The only difference is that it is legal and organized in Istanbul and illegal and disorganized here,” said Majic.
Wilma Alonso, director of the Fordham Road Business Improvement District, recently counted 242 street vendors along the shopping corridor from Grand Concourse to Webster Avenue.
The same area only has 230 storefronts.
“They sell water, jewelry, masks, toys, counterfeit goods and anything else you can think of,” Alonso said, adding that hustlers even set up three-card monte games.
Alonso called the situation a “public safety crisis,” citing a June 5th shooting at E. 188th Street near Grand Concourse that resulted from an argument with a salesman. Another seller, who was not involved in the dispute, was shot in the arm by a stray bullet, according to police.
Beefs between people selling CDs in Times Square resulted in the shooting of a 4-year-old girl in May and a US marine in June.
The March 2021 law removed police enforcement and turned it over to the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs and Worker Protection.
A spokeswoman for the agency confirmed to The Post that the law doesn’t even require it to be fully functional until September.
“The truth is that the city council was very short-sighted and thought about the impact and damage they would do to the business community,” Alonso said of the new law.
Its members were unable to participate in pandemic-era programs like alfresco dining or open shop fronts because the sidewalks were overrun with illegal vendors.
Between January and July, 311 complaints about illegal vending machines across the city rose 14 percent compared to the same period in 2019 before the coronavirus pandemic.
The agency has been doing “educational walks” in high-complaint areas such as Fordham Road and Times Square, but did not begin inspections until June 1. Since then, it has conducted 13 inspections and found only eight violations along Fordham Road, including several against John and John Jane Does after vendors refused to provide identification
“We were stunned when we found out on a day that there were hundreds of unauthorized vendors, just [a few] Summons were issued, ”said Alonso.
When a Post reporter visited the area last week, none of the vendors had reported any licenses. Their folding tables offered everything from face masks to iPhone chargers to Gucci imitations. In one section, a group of men shouted over a heated three-card monte game.
The sellers refused to answer the reporter’s questions, and some even followed him as he tried to reach buyers.
“We have almost no business for them,” said Mahmood Tariq, owner of the Phones & Games Center on the corner of East Fordham Road and Webster Avenue.
“These providers have nothing to pay for and earn a lot more money than we do because everything goes into their own pockets. We have to pay taxes, we have to pay licenses, rent and other fees, ”said Tariq.
The NYPD partnered with DCWP to crack down on illegal vendors in Times Square after turf wars between CD vendors resulted in the shooting of innocent victims visiting the tourist destination.
Although the area has not seen similar violence, Fordham Road business owners hope the NYPD will step in to restore order.
“Our customers want to come and shop in peace. They don’t want to fight to get into the store because someone is taking up 50 percent of the space outside, ”said Majic, whose family business employs 150 people in nine stores in the Bronx.
“The only time we had enforcement action on Fordham Road was the riot. You can’t even call the police who won’t pick you up, ”said Majic.
“The inspectors cannot force you to properly identify yourself. Who are you writing the ticket to? John Doe? That’s pretty much a joke, ”said Majic.
Margaret Chin, the Democratic councilor of Manhattan who backed the law that DCWP blamed for enforcement, did not apologize for the unintended consequences of the new law – even suggesting that the unlicensed, unregulated, and unaccountable providers should just step in Be left alone.
“[Business improvement districts] and chambers of commerce, they should also try to see that these are small businesses too. They are micro-businesses. You should really work with them and help them, ”Chin said of the illegal sellers.
“If there is any illegal activity, we should somehow get rid of it so that the legitimate people who are trying to survive can make a living,” Chin said.
She stated that she had been fighting for $ 3 million to fund DCWP’s new enforcement wing, which had already detected 199 violations across the city before it officially opened in September. The city council’s hearings for the subpoenas only started last week.
Chin encouraged people to call the NYPD if they see counterfeit goods being sold.
When asked if police would start cracking down on the Fordham Road vendors, a DCWP spokeswoman quoted the partnership with the Times Square police force and said the agency would “continue to work with them if necessary.”
Additional reporting from Nolan Hicks, Len La Rocca, Tina Moore and Craig McCarthy