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City should boot 'ugly' food carts in midtown, business group says

34th St. Food Carts

34th St. Food Carts Photo Credit: Tiffany L. Clark

A coalition of midtown businesses is pushing the city to boot what it calls “ugly” food carts that have been a neighborhood staple for decades.

The 34th Street Partnership wants the city to crack down on vendors who peddle meals and merchandise in front of its members’ buildings, according to Dan Biederman, who heads the group.

“They are unsightly, and not particularly good citizens,” Biederman said of the carts and their vendors.

“They litter. They violate the rules frequently,” he said. “The fact that these are humble vendors doesn’t give them the license to be slobs.”

The biggest issue business owners have are food carts adorned by flashing lights, according to Biederman, who recently addressed his concerns to Community Board 5. DNAinfo.com first reported the meeting.

Biederman — who is also president of the Chelsea Improvement Company and Bryant Park Corporation — said he has reached out to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office to ask the city “to be a little more discriminatory” about which carts are allowed in midtown. Bloomberg serves on the partnership’s board, along with business and property owners, residents, and several other city pols and officials. The 34th Street Partnership is made up of 400 properties' owners.

A spokeswoman for Bloomberg could not comment on any discussions between the city and Biederman Sunday night.

Sean Basinski, director of the Street Vendor Project, which advocates for vendors, called Biederman’s words a “cheap shot” against food cart owners.

“They may like the city to look one way, but I think most New Yorkers appreciate the vendors being there,” Basinski said.

“This is about what kind of city we live in and how it looks,” Basinski added. “Is it a city that just looks like Duane Reades and Starbucks and luxury buildings on every corner, or is it a city of individually owned, locally owned entrepreneurs and immigrants who are street vendors?”

While 311 has recorded a slow, steady increase in complaints about vendors citywide, Community Board 5 received fewer last year than in the year prior.

Jeremiah Moss of the blog Vanishing New York said he feared the city’s iconic food carts would be replaced with more expensive and “artisanal” fare. He called the businesses’ push to change carts “the suburbanization and homogenization of urban culture.”

“This is a suburban complaint,” Moss said. “It has no place in the city.”

Mohamed Ali, 44, who has been manning a food cart in the city for 14 years, said he was surprised by the business owners’, since he gets along well with many local establishments.

“We are following the rules. When we [don’t], we are ticketed,” said Ali, who serves shish-ka-bobs at 41st Street and 7th Ave.

He said his cart is a hit with tourists and residents alike.

“Everybody is taking pictures with us,” he said.

(With Isabel Castro)

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