Aug. 2, 2023 By Michael Dorgan
Queens officials including U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined advocates and street vendors for a rally in Corona on Wednesday, Aug. 2, to condemn a recent crackdown on vendors in the area and to call for the city to issue more permits.
The rally took place at Corona Plaza Park, an outdoor area located at 103rd Street and Roosevelt Avenue which has become a busy hub for vendors selling food and drink. Dozens of street vendors and their supporters attended the demonstration, with many carrying colorful signs that read: “working with dignity is not a crime” and “more street vendor permits.” Most of the signs were written in Spanish.
Many of the vendors have been operating there without permits and critics say the plaza — which was initially created to be an open public space — has become unsanitary, dangerous and swamped with vendors, many of whom don’t follow the same rules as neighboring brick and mortar small businesses.
Last week the Dept. of Sanitation did a sweep of the area which forced unauthorized vendors to stop selling their items.
The move was supported by Council member Franciso Moya who did not attend the rally, although it drew criticism from vendor advocates and other elected officials who say that the workers were given little advanced notice and that the street sellers are immigrants who are only trying to survive and feed their families. They say that the vendors contribute to the local economy and cultural life of the neighborhood.
They called on the city to do more by allocating more permits.
“Don’t tell people to get licenses when they haven’t been given for 10 years, it is unrealistic. The answer is to let them grow, not kick them out,” Ocasio-Cortez said to loud cheers. “It is functionally impossible for these street vendors to comply with the law. We should not penalize small business owners for the government’s failures and, as a resident of Corona, I can tell you that I appreciate all that they do here.”
Ocasio-Cortez was joined by Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Assembly members Catalina Cruz and Steve Raga, as well as Council member Julie Won. A representative for Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas also spoke. The vendors were represented by the Street Vendor Project of the Urban Justice Center, a nonprofit group that advocates for immigrants.
The speakers were regularly interrupted by a man and a woman who said they don’t want unauthorized vendors operating in the area. The man shouted, “follow the rules.”
Richards said that the plaza is a hub of culture, cuisine and diversity. Richards said he helped create a the Corona Plaza Task Force recently that supported a number of new initiatives at the location, including the installation of Citibin garbage and recycling containers to improve the plaza’s cleanliness.
“This plaza is a stepping stone along the path towards achieving the American Dream. It symbolizes all that we are as Americans, as Queens residents and in Queens we celebrate our diversity,” Richards said. “This place is a cultural hub and a place where communities come together.”
González-Rojas echoed the calls for more permits via a statement. “In the end, we all want the same thing,” González-Rojas said. “We want working families to have the ability to survive and thrive in our city.”
Meanwhile, Moya spoke to the Queens Post on Wednesday and said he was not invited to the rally.
He said that he and many other residents and business owners supported the actions of the Dept. of Sanitation because the plaza had become unsafe. He said vendors are selling food that would not pass a health inspection and that propane tanks are being used there in an unsafe manner.
Some of his solutions are to install kiosks at the plaza so vendors could operate there safely, expand permits or create new zoned areas.
“I’m listening to my community; I’m listening to my constituents who have been crying out for help for years now,” Moya said. “The reality is the way it’s structured there [now], that cannot continue.”