September 20, By Tara Law
A confrontation between State Senator Jose Peralta, a street vendor and a passerby that was caught on video last week has reignited the conflict between street vendors and store owners.
The video, which was posted on Facebook on Sept. 13 and has since gone viral, shows a fruit vendor located on Roosevelt Avenue, by Junction Blvd., in a heated discussion with Peralta.
Peralta is telling the vendor, Virginia Corona, that adjacent store owners have complained about the amount of space she occupies on the sidewalk.
Mid discussion, a pedestrian, Carmen Edwards, interjects and starts filming the conversation while accusing Peralta of picking on Corona because she is a woman and an immigrant.
Since then, the video has been viewed nearly 200,000 times and shared by more than 4,500 Facebook users. DNAinfo reported the story on Monday.
Despite Edwards’ criticism of Peralta, the Street Vendor Project, a non-profit group that advocates for vendors, as well as local store owners have come to his defense.
Sean Basinski of the Street Vendor Project issued a statement supporting Peralta after the video emerged.
Basinski said that Peralta is a strong supporter of street vendors, and that complying with the rules is beneficial to everyone.
“He was encouraging her to comply with the regulations, which this vendor in particular has a reputation for flouting, to the detriment of other vendors,” Basinski said.
Meanwhile, storeowners were supportive of Peralta because they argue that the city needs to clamp down on vendors who block the sidewalk and leave garbage everywhere.
Many store owners who operate on Roosevelt Avenue complain that the fruit vendors are making it difficult for them to conduct normal business.
Myriam Jose Hernandez, who operates Bely’s Salon near Edwards’ stand, said that the fruit stand blocks people’s view of the salon from the street, which is hurting business. Additionally, the stand makes it difficult for clients to enter the salon, she said.
“We’re invisible,” said Hernandez in Spanish. “Nobody can see us and the business has gone down.”
Hernandez also said the street vendors produce a lot of garbage and their produce smells in warm weather.
“They don’t sweep outside, but they are there all day,” said Hernandez.
Peralta’s argument stems from the complaints he has received from store owners.
In recent years, the senator has introduced legislation that has aimed to regulate street vendors and ease the tension between them and store owners.
The legislation calls for the formation of a governmental body that can arbitrate spats between street vendors and owners; is able to increase the number of street vendor permits issue; and zone where vendors can operate. He has also introduced legislation calling for the health department to create a letter grading system for vendors.
One fruit vendor located by the salon—who said his name was Luis–said that he is open to talking with the brick and mortar stores to solve problems.
However, he said, it would be difficult for him to adapt if new regulations required him to move or if they were more rigorously enforced. He worries that changes could hurt his livelihood.
“It would be difficult,” Luis said. “I have been here for six years, and the customers know us.”
Luis has been fined by the police in the past for occupying too much space, with tickets ranging from $200 to $1,000.
He typically reduces the amount of space he uses after being asked by the police to do so. However, when he sees other stands expand he said he feels compelled to spread out too.
“If I see other fruit stands expand, I will do the same thing,” Luis said. “Otherwise the customers are going to go to the other stands.”
Peralta’s office played down the tape, arguing that the conversation with Corona was part of the senator’s efforts to reach out and speak to local business owners.
“Instead of calling an agency and having a fine issued, Senator Peralta took the time to speak to the vendors and it is unfortunate that a passerby did not understand what he was attempting to do,” according to his spokesman.