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City of Immigrants

Corona Plaza Vendors Are Struggling Under the City’s New Restrictions

The number of vendors has been slashed, opening hours have been cut, and sales are down by more than half—but vendors are hoping the plans for the permanent market will change all of that.

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)

Corona Plaza vendors are back to work—but tight new restrictions imposed by the City have made it increasingly difficult to make a living.

After the Sanitation Department cleared dozens of unpermitted vendors out of the plaza in a raid last summer, the popular street market was allowed to reopen in November, but with only a fraction of the original vendors and limited hours. 

Now, as the City is looking for a long-term operator for the market, vendors and their allies are calling for changes that will allow the plaza to reclaim its spot as an acclaimed destination for Latin American food.  

"There's stability, and we're not running from the police," said Rosario Troncoso, who sells Mexican crafts at the plaza and leads the Asociación de Vendedores Ambulantes de Corona Plaza. "But the one difficulty has been the hours and the number of spots."

Before the raid, up to 80 vendors would set up at the plaza next to the 103rd Street 7 train station. The market drew visitors from around the city and beyond and earned a spot on the New York Times’s list of the city's 100 best places to eat. But it also drew complaints about overcrowding and trash, culminating in the July enforcement blitz by the Department of Sanitation.

A few months later, the vendors were allowed to return under the supervision of the Queens Economic Development Corporation, which was tapped by the Adams administration as a temporary operator. 

But thanks to the new restrictions, the market has become a scaled back version of its former self. Only 14 vendors are allowed, and only 10 of them can sell food. Hours have also been limited to five days a week, Wednesday through Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Vendors Hell Gate spoke with said that these changes have made it hard to get by. "It's been a little rough," said Gaston Cortes, who sells chilaquiles and soups at the stand Chilaquiles El Chingon. "Sales have been very, very slow. It's like starting all over again. People don't know we’re back."

Sales are down by more than half compared to before the raid, vendors told Hell Gate. Besides the smaller number of vendors and limited hours, crowds scared away by the raid have yet to return in full force, with some customers unaware the plaza has reopened. 

Corona Plaza vendors Gaston Cortes and Rosario Troncoso. (Erin Durkin / Hell Gate)

Winter weather has also slowed traffic. The new setup uses tents and tables rather than traditional street carts, and shutdowns due to high wind are not uncommon. 

The Asociación de Vendedores Ambulantes de Corona Plaza implemented a lottery system to give all the vendors who are interested and can meet City requirements a chance to sell. As a result, each vendor only gets to open a few days a week. Many have had to look for other work doing construction or odd jobs on off days, or try to vend without a permit at other locations. 

"It's very difficult, because there aren't a lot of jobs in the city. But we are limited in this respect," Troncoso said. She added, "It's hard to get sales up again to where they were before…That's why we want more hours."

Cortes has picked up extra work doing food delivery or helping at his brother's camera business. 

"I have to. I have no choice," he said. He said that previously, he had been able to survive on vending alone. "Nobody could tell you what hours you should be working," Cortes explained. "But now it's different. Now, it's rules."

In the working-class, immigrant neighborhood, the busiest times for vendors had been early mornings, when crowds on their way to work would pick up breakfast or lunch, and later in the evening, when they would stop for dinner on the way home. 

But now, vendors have to be entirely out of the plaza by 8 p.m., meaning they have to start wrapping up around 7 p.m., just at the dinner rush. The 9 a.m. opening time means that they're also missing out on early morning breakfast traffic. 

The reduced hours have also had an impact on the neighborhood's residents, many of whom live in shared rooms without access to a kitchen and rely on street food. "That's really the bread and butter for the vendors," said Carina Kaufman-Gutierrez, deputy director of the Street Vendor Project. "It's not just income for the vendors. It's also for the community. It's also people who are looking for an affordable, hot meal that's fresh, that's what they want to eat, and they're not able to get it."

The Street Vendor Project argues the City could at least double the number of vendors allowed in Corona Plaza. The organization mapped out the area and found that there is space for 28 vendors while leaving enough space for pedestrians to pass and the required distance to storefronts and subway entrances, Kaufman-Gutierrez said. 

Vendors evicted from the plaza over the summer lacked permits, which are nearly impossible to get because the City caps how many are available. An effort to increase the number of permits issued has faced lengthy delays

In a first of its kind arrangement, returning Corona Plaza vendors have been instead allowed to get a restricted area permit for $200. They also have to rent space in a commissary kitchen to do food prep and store their wares, and display a tax certificate and food handling license. 

The Department of Transportation, which oversees the plaza, released a request for proposals last month to find an operator to run the market for the long term, with proposals due March 18. DOT may consider changes to the rules under a long-term plan, with details depending on what respondents to the RFP propose and who is chosen, a spokesperson for the agency told Hell Gate. 

"The RFP is flexible regarding the number of tents and hours of operations, both of which will need DOT's approval. The agreement will depend on the details of the selected proposal in response to the RFP," the agency wrote in responses to people interested in the bidding process.

QEDC will apply to become the permanent operator, and plans to ask for more stalls and a more extensive schedule, said its executive director, Seth Bornstein. Two market managers working for the group currently oversee the plaza on a day to day basis. 

"We've told the City this is a community of lower middle-class people, many immigrants, many single people, day laborers or workers in healthcare. And many of them may not live in homes with big kitchens, or they're shared spaces. It's not a luxury to have food prepared for you, as many people think. It's a necessity," Bornstein said. 

He said it will take time to build back up the buzz around the market, but thinks it can be done. 

"Right now, the energy level's not what it was in July," Bornstein said. "But it can get there. I think we can get there. It will be better, because it will be more organized, more regulated, cleaner, and safer."

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