Aug. 7, 2023 By Michael Dorgan
City Council member Francisco Moya joined small business owners and residents for a rally in Corona on Monday, Aug. 7, calling for safer and cleaner streets, as well as an end to unauthorized vendors and illegal sex workers operating in the area.
The rally took place at the American Triangle, a small public space located at 41st Avenue, 102nd Street and National Street, which is about a block and a half away from Corona Plaza where nearly two weeks ago the Dept. of Sanitation shut down dozens of vendors who were operating there without permits.
At Monday’s rally, protesters said that the neighborhood had become dirty and unsanitary due, in large part, to unauthorized vendors operating in the area who flout the law and leave trash behind. They said that the vendors have been taking trade away from brick-and-mortar businesses and often set up stalls outside businesses that sell the same items. Business owners who spoke at the rally alleged that some vendors have threatened them.
Furthermore, the protesters raised concerns about rising crime in the neighborhood, illegal prostitution and homeless people congregating and drinking alcohol at the American Triangle. During Monday’s rally, several men could be seen sitting at a bench at the space drinking alcohol.
The demonstrators held large signs which contained several photographs. One sign, which read “we don’t want this,” had photographs of trash strewn across local streets while another, contrasting sign, read “we need this” and had images of clean streets and children playing in public areas. Other demonstrators held small signs written in Spanish that read “no more rubbish.”
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The demonstration was organized by Guadalupe Aguirre, a coordinator with Casa San Judas, a local group that hosts programs for youths in the area. Aguirre, who spoke to the Queens/Jackson Heights Post through a translator, said that some youth members have been afraid to attend programs due to the area becoming unsafe.
Moya, who spoke to the Queens/Jackson Heights Post in an exclusive interview last week, said at the rally that his office has been receiving at least 20 complaints per week with regard to the illegal vending taking place in the neighborhood. He said the unauthorized vending has led to a spike in crime at Corona Plaza with more than 75 felony arrests at the location so far this year.
“We deserve to have clean streets [and] safe streets for our community, what we’re seeing here is not that,” Moya said.
“What we have seen is incidents of vendors intimidating business owners [and] residents. We see the delinquency that’s taking place here, prostitution that’s run rampant along Roosevelt Avenue. This has to change.”
Moya said that his office, along with the mayor’s office and the Dept. of Sanitation, has been cleaning up Corona Plaza.
“I’m not here to take away food from anyone’s tables, but we also have regulations, and we have rules that we have to follow,” said Moya, who added that he voted to increase the number of permits being issued to vendors in the past. He said he has also proposed to install kiosks and zoned areas for vendors at the plaza. “All of these things have been turned down and I think that the community sees that this is a moment of reflection and a moment of change.”
Massiel Lugo, a local resident and mother of two, said she is afraid to walk the streets of Corona with her children given the safety issues. She started a petition around three days ago to rally support for clean and safe streets in Corona. The petition has generated more than 600 signatures so far, she said.
“[I created the petition] so that we can show that our voices matter as well because I feel like only the vendors have been heard but we have residents who have been here for decades and we have businesses who have also been losing business,” Lugo said.
The demonstration came days after Queens elected officials — including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards — held a rally at the plaza denouncing the recent sweep of the area by the Dept. of Sanitation. The electeds called on the city to issue more permits to help the vendors.
Yarin Nadel, who owns several phone repair and accessory stores in Corona said that the unauthorized vendors are setting up stalls outside his businesses and selling the same type of items he offers. He said the unauthorized vendors are selling phone covers for around one-third of the price he sells his items for, and the vendors do not pay any taxes on the items, nor do they pay rent or property taxes compared to his businesses.
He said the undercutting has made it hard for him to not only turn a profit but to make his rent payments.
“We’re providing for families, paying taxes, we’re backed up,” Yarin said.
He said vendors have been setting up stalls outside his businesses and telling passersby not to go inside.
“The business owners and the residents over here are scared to come outside and really express how what they’re feeling, because of fear,” Yarin said.
One small business owner, a woman who spoke in Spanish at the rally, said that she operates a legitimate spa and beauty store in the neighborhood and that it is being confused by some men as an illegal brothel. She said that men seeking sex from prostitutes are constantly calling the store looking for sexual services. She said the confusion is tarnishing the name of her business and is impacting her sales.
Meanwhile, vendors who were shut down by the Dept. of Sanitation nearly two weeks ago at Corona Plaza were protesting at the venue today. They said they have been left with no source of income since the sweep and urged all parties to come together and find a resolution to the issue.
Many of the vendors said that while some vendors had not been following the rules with regard to sanitation, the majority of them have been acting diligently.
The vendors also have a petition to support them being allowed back to operating at the plaza. They say it has amassed nearly 5,000 written signatures.