By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
BAY RIDGE — Bay Ridge residents may becoming more hospitable to food vendors.
Another halal food cart has set up shop on Fourth Avenue and 86th Street, a block away from the site of a tense stand-off between brick-and-mortar businesses and food vendors several weeks ago.
“He obviously thinks he can do business on that corner," across the street from the R train station. "He must think there’s a customer base there,” said a local merchant who asked that his name not be used.
Meanwhile, in the middle of the cold war that is taking place between brick-and-mortar business owners on Fifth Avenue and owners of sidewalk food carts, someone mysteriously brought two metal green benches and bolted the street furniture to the sidewalk on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 86th Street a few weeks ago.
No one knows who bolted the benches to the sidewalk. Some have speculated that the rearrangement of the street furniture might have been an attempt to block a halal food cart owner from doing business on that corner.
Community Board 10 member Habib Joudeh, who owns a pharmacy on Fifth Avenue about a mile away from the benches, said he was concerned that the benches were being used to block the food cart.
“When somebody takes the law into their own hands, this is not a good thing,” Joudeh told his fellow board members at a meeting on May 21.
Joudeh said he offered to pay the $425 fee it would take to get the benches removed but was turned down by 86th Street business leaders.
“We need to solve this. It’s putting a crack in our community,” he said, referring to the ongoing dispute between brick-and-mortar businesses and food carts.
The benches are still there.
The halal food cart returned to the corner after a few days and now operates his sidewalk shop next to the benches.
Restaurant owners in Bay Ridge have complained that the food vendors constitute unfair competition and are taking customers away from them. They said that the unfair competition aspect of their argument comes from the fact that food vendors do not have to pay real estate taxes as they do and are not subject to unannounced inspections by the Department of Health.
But food vendors said they are operating within the law and are good neighbors.
In addition to the bench brawl, tensions also escalated when a group of business owners, led by Tony Gentile, owner of Lone Star Bar and Grill on Fifth Avenue, occupied a spot on the sidewalk on Fifth Avenue and 86th Street, temporarily displacing the halal food cart owner for three days.
The protesters, calling themselves “Save Our Streetscape,” set up a table and, invoking their First Amendment rights, sold newspapers and magazines. The protest was called off after three days at the urging of local officials.
It’s not just Bay Ridge that is dealing with tensions between food vendors and brick-and-mortar business owners, according to Community Board 10 Chairman Joanne Seminara. Seminara said the problem has cropped up in other neighborhoods around the city.
“This is much bigger than Bay Ridge. It is citywide,” Seminara said.
Board 10 is already on record as siding with the brick-and-mortar business owners against the food carts.
Back in 2008, the board voted to request that a city-imposed ban on sidewalk vendors on 86th Street be amended to include food carts. Food vendors are currently exempt from the ban and are allowed to set up their carts on any sidewalk they choose as long as they have a permit. The ban is in effect for vendors selling clothing, jewelry, electronics, and other items.
Board members said the food carts increase litter, a charge that food cart owners have denied.