John Choe walks down Main Street in Flushing, a neighborhood he’s lived and worked in for over a decade, he points out the different street corners where he and many others used to grab lunch. Here, one of the best ways to eat has always been on the street, where grilled meat skewers, Chinese barbecue, and sweet egg cakes have been sold from their respective corners for years.
But those vendors — who helped build the neighborhood’s reputation as a haven for the city’s best food — are now gone from their usual spots on Flushing’s busy main corridor. The corner of 39th Avenue and Main, once home to juicy lamb skewers and a vendor selling “golden eggies,” is now empty, and over on 38th Avenue, a popular Chinese barbecue cart is also gone.
The vendor-free streets are a result of a controversial city-backed street vendor ban that went into effect earlier this year. Though billed as a way to alleviate sidewalk congestion and pollution, many say the ban was driven by the luxurifying of downtown Flushing, which is now home to multi-million dollar condos, glitzy new shopping malls, and an increasingly wealthy population.
“I spoke with all the vendors directly, and many of them were heartbroken,” says Choe, executive director of the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce. “I know at least one that had been here for more than 10 years.”
Incidentally, despite the ban, some unlicensed vendors are still setting up shop in the neighborhood; these vendors aren’t registered with the city, making it harder for officials to find and cite them for violations. On a recent afternoon, a clothing seller stood at 41st Avenue and Main, taking over the space where a skewer vendor once stood. The result, Choe says, is that the ban ends up mostly impacting vendors who are trying to do business legally.
“It’s a bitter irony that the people who invested time and resources into becoming fully compliant with city rules are the ones that have been kicked out,” he says.
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