Food trucks and carts have been given a wide variety of reasons for why they are no longer welcome in Midtown, Manhattan. Most of these reasons relate to an outdated court ruling, or complaints by rent-paying brick and mortar restaurants, but this is the first complaint we’ve heard that has ostracized food carts based upon their physical appearance.
A new campaign by neighborhood business owners and members of the 34th Street Partnership have called out food and street vendors for being rude, obnoxious eyesores that are cluttering the streets. Dan Biederman, who heads the Partnership as well as the Bryant Park Association said “The problem is really simple: the food vendors, with about five exceptions, are the ugliest collection of miserable-looking vehicles we’ve ever seen. The vendors are almost exclusively terrible citizens, they litter with impunity and are generally rude to anyone who asks them to clean up.”
The partnership has taken action by asking city officials to reduce the amount of street vendors in Midtown, and effectively take away licenses and relocate them to ‘better’ places. Biederman claims the street vendor problem has worsened since many vendors began putting flashing signs on their carts. This, in conjunction with excess smoke, odd smells, piles of trash on street corners and the general aesthetic appeal of carts have made the streets in midtown unpleasant for residents, tourists and office workers. The group mentioned that several carts do look physically attractive, such as Wafels & Dinges and the Fruit-n-Juice cart on West 35th and Broadway.
The Street Vendor Project, which helps street vendors identify their rights, has responded to this most recent charge by this campaign. “It’s a little bit crazy to call vendors ugly and take them away from their neighborhood,” said Street Vendor Project attorney, Matthew Shapiro.
Shapiro argues that vendors provide important jobs to immigrants, and offer more affordable food for people who cannot afford the high priced options in Manhattan. “They can’t afford to invest in their business and make them looks better because they’re always getting slammed with fines. When people think of New York, they think of street vendors, they think of the hot dog cart. It’s part of the city.”
Biederman sees city organizations as a means to regulate the food trucks, though they are already heavily regulated by the Department of Consumer Affairs and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. With litter, crime and graffiti disappearing from the city, Biederman now sees food trucks and carts as the single biggest complaint, which the city has a responsibility to address.
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