Culture

Sidewalk Vendor Overkill


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When is too much way too much?

New York is a great city, filled with culture, restaurants, stores, and living street life filled with performers, talented and not so talented musicians, a naked cowboy standing around Times Square (weather permitting), and endless street vendors. There's the hot dog guys, the Nuts for Nuts folks, the Halal carts, smoothie vendors, and now a new surge of parked trucks with yogurts, and tacos, even crepes, coffee, things that never used to be a part of "vendor culture" if such a thing exists, and actually it does. There are web sites that rate the top ones, and some even include some well-received chefs. The Kwik Meal #1 in midtown at 45th and 6th is a Russian Tea Room veteran, and is written up top dining magazines for its superb food. I'm not a food critic, however I wasn't blown away, and actually I'm going to go ahead and say in general the level, the sheer number of food carts in this city might be a little overkill.

I understand the convenience, but I can't say I'm super excited about them taking over the city. I've had some personal bad experiences with the carts, several huge bones in some chicken dishes that I was lucky not to swallow, and one time - I kid you not - I found a green piece of the zipper part of a jacket in from a Halal cart. Yum! Eat your way to the special hidden prize. A zipper! I returned it and at first the guys didn't want to admit it was from them, but it was, nicely covered in sauce and all.

I'm not sure what the city's current regulations are, but this trend of cart-mania congests the already congested streets, and should be allowed to operate, but perhaps in a more limited form. Do we really need every corner to have a vendor competing to sell roughly the same hot dogs, or gyros, or nuts? Worse yet, you get into places near Lower Manhattan where the items get downright lacking in class: Guy selling Ground Zero hats and t-shirts. What is this the Grand Canyon? I understand that the area is a tourist attraction now, but who buys a hat and wears that around? Brag to your friends you saw the hole in the ground that used to be the old World Trade Center?

With New York City's lack of garbage cans, especially in midtown, the cart situation becomes particularly gross at times with randomly thrown food boxes of made of Styrofoam piling over the streets when they don't fit on the mountains of unemptied trash bins.

So beyond the food, lack of sanitary situation, and lack of class of these things in their masses, you also get into the wonderful art of counterfeiting. Fake watches, purses, sunshades, all of these items you can actually buy in midtown in the 30s, around Penn Station, but ultimately sprout out as these spread out bonanzas of guys screaming in your ear about cheap purses, hats, gloves, etc for $5. I'm sure it's fun for tourists, but I also question how much of this commerce is actually paid back in taxes, being that its all cash, and how shady the business operations are in the first place. Wouldn't it be better for tourists to take part in transactions that will actually go back to helping keep the city running, instead of having to constantly raise prices of things New Yorkers actually use, like the the mass transit system?

In Times Square, these aren't vendors exactly, but you can't walk one corner without some guy trying to sell you tickets to a comedy show. So much comedy, and the stupidest questions, "Do you like stand-up comedy?" What kind of question is that? If you say no, you get mocked by these guys. So you're walking street to street and then if you back they get you again. These shows are not great comedy shows either, the good ones people know about. You wouldn't need a guy luring you in to pay a huge entrance fee and overpriced drinks to see unknown, unfunny comics. These are essentially scams, and I suppose Times Square's substitute for its old reputation of rampant prostitution. Frankly the latter almost seems less sleazy than these comic-peddling jerks.

One thing is for sure, if we don't start some kind of more significant regulation in this city, we'll be overrun by them. There won't be any class to New York. You'll just be wandering around the eternal circus/state fair, with less and less stores willing to put up the cash to buy actual real estate and more and more on-the-run stores. How many products need to be in carts really? How far is this going to go? Will New York eventually have no real brick and mortar stores? Maybe that's so 1990s.

When I have to buy my next laptop from a computer cart, will be I able to get a receipt, and will the store on wheels, still be there next week?

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Updated May 6, 2017 6:01 AM EDT | More details

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