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City of Immigrants

City Clears Out Corona Plaza’s Popular Street Vendor Market

The plaza usually hosts as many as 90 vendors. After Friday, it was mostly empty.

A vendor cart with a sign that says "We are workers" at Corona Plaza.

One of the remaining carts at Corona Plaza after the raid in the summer of 2023. (Erin Durkin / Hell Gate)

After months of questions about what would happen to the widely celebrated, if largely unpermitted, street food haven at Corona Plaza in Queens, the Adams administration provided an answer: On Friday, armed Sanitation Department police officers launched an enforcement sweep, clearing out many of the vendors who lack permits.

Only a handful of the dozens of vendors who usually pack the plaza at 103rd Street remained on Friday afternoon after the crackdown. 

Legal vendors were forced to remove canopies they had used for shade, leaving them to bake in 94 degree heat in the midst of a brutal heat wave.

Corona Plaza after the raid (Eric Durkin / Hell Gate)

Corona Plaza has become a popular destination for Latin American street food among local residents and visitors from around the city, with vendors hawking tacos, meat skewers and sandwiches. Its population exploded when the pandemic set in, as people in the neighborhood—one of the hardest hit by COVID—turned to vending to make ends meet.

"They were taking people's stuff who didn't have a permit," said Briget Pineda, whose family has sold fruit at the plaza for the last twenty years.

Pineda's stand was allowed to stay, but forced to take down a canopy that had covered their spot. They also had to remove some merchandise because authorities said they were taking up more space than allowed. 

"That's really hard," Pineda said. "It's summer. There's going to be a lot of sun out. It’s going to be hard working out in the heat."

Sanitation police officers at Corona Plaza on Saturday (Erin Durkin / Hell Gate)

A spokesman for the Department of Sanitation said enforcement was necessary because of quality of life problems in the area. 

"As part of the Adams Administration's commitment to the health, safety, accessibility and cleanliness of our streets, the Department of Sanitation engaged in vending inspections and limited enforcement in Corona Plaza over the last two days. This is a location where recent visits showed significant issues with cleanliness and pedestrian access," said spokesman Vincent Gragnani.

"Sanitation Police removed five vending setups that were abandoned, all of which have been vouchered and can be claimed by their owners, and issued one summons to a vendor for obstructing the sidewalk," he said. "We remind all vendors of their legal responsibilities not to leave trash or merchandise behind."

Corona Plaza after the raid (Erin Durkin / Hell Gate)

Rules prohibit vendors from using fixed canopies bolted into the ground, according to Sanitation. Four vendors were told to remove such canopies, but not fined. Regular umbrellas are allowed, and several of the vendors switched to umbrellas after canopies were removed.

Street vendors have been unable to get permits because of a strict cap on the number issued by the City. The City Council passed legislation in 2021 to add 4,000 permits over the course of a decade, on top of the 3,000 previously available, but the process has faced lengthy delays.

At Corona Plaza—which sprawls under the 7 train stop at 103rd Street and Roosevelt Avenue—as many as 90 vendors sometimes turn out on busy days, most of them without permits. The plaza earned a spot on the New York Times' recent list of the 100 best restaurants in the city.

Besides cuisine from Mexico and Ecuador, some vendors sell clothes, crafts and household supplies. A few brick and mortar merchants have complained about mess and what they consider unfair competition.

Vendors banded together to form an association, the Asociación de Vendedores Ambulantes de Corona Plaza, to create their own code of conduct, keep things clean and work out any disputes.

Crowds at the usually bustling market were sparse this weekend, as most of the vendors remained shut down.

Guadalupe Sen (Erin Durkin / Hell Gate)

Guadalupe Sen has a permit for her cart, Tlayudas Oaxaquenas SR San Pablo, but was required to remove a table she had set up for customers to eat. She said that, coupled with the lack of foot traffic, has hurt business.

"Many of us survive by working at carts, and eating at carts," she said in Spanish, noting street food is more affordable for a mostly immigrant clientele. "Some people, what they sell is what they live on. If they don’t sell, they can’t eat, they can’t pay rent."

Signs posted in the area warned of an impending enforcement blitz. 

A notice posted around Corona Plaza on Friday (Erin Durkin / Hell Gate)

"You have been observed by NYC law enforcement personnel operating a street vending business at a time, location and/or manner that violates the NYC administrative code," a poster said. "You may be issued summonses and your merchandise and table, etc. may be subject to removal by enforcement personnel."

A police officer on the scene confirmed that unpermitted vendors had been evicted.

"That’s what we're here for," the officer said. "It's way cleaner," they added.

The NYPD was formally removed from street vendor enforcement two years ago, in favor of the Department of Worker and Consumer Protection, though cops never entirely stopped issuing tickets. Earlier this year, enforcement authority was moved once again to Sanitation. 

Police officers linger in Corona Plaza after the sweep (Eric Durkin / Hell Gate)

Giselle Ramirez said business was slow at her family’s Ecuadorean food cart after the crackdown. "Business went down, because there's nobody" around, she said. "People are scared."

But she said she understood the enforcement, because the market had become too chaotic in recent years, despite the efforts of the vendor association. 

"It was overcrowded. There was no more room. There were vendors on top of other vendors. There were already accidents," she said. "There are people that follow the rules, but if one person doesn’t follow it, everybody falls down together."

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