Food carts mushroom after subway opening

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Local brick-and-mortar shops near Second Avenue stations say business has been affected


  • A proliferation of food carts have set up shop along Second Avenue following the completion of the subway line there. Omar Ismail's cart, pictured, is one of four that were doing business Tuesday morning near the northwest entrance to the 72nd Street station. Photo: Richard Khavkine

  • Some Second Avenue business owners say they are being hurt by the proliferation of food carts that have set up shop near the corridor's new subway stations. Photo: Richard Khavkine

The highly anticipated opening of the Second Avenue subway was met with relief from local business owners, hopeful they would return to their pre-construction prosperity. An influx of food trucks in the areas near the new stations, however, is causing some discontent among local deli, cafe and restaurant owners.

According to Community Board 8 Chairman James Clynes, the board office has received numerous complaints from restaurant owners who operate along the Second Avenue corridor. After suffering through seven years of construction-related disruptions, which forced many businesses along the avenue to move or shut down altogether, Clynes is sympathetic.

“It’s not right that they’ve now set up in front of subway stops, cashing in,” he said of the food carts.

Arturo Guillan, who works at Express Stop 72, a small deli on Second Avenue just north of 72nd Street, said the deli’s owners and employees have contacted a City Council liaison and the city helpline but have been sent in circles, seeing no results.

“We called 311 and were sent to the police and the police sent us back to Consumer Affairs,” he said of the city department.

Since the opening of the subway station, Guillan now sees three to four carts operating within one block of the deli every morning, with two to three operating throughout the day. The financial hardship that the business hoped would be alleviated after the completion of the subway stations has continued, which he attributes to the presence of the trucks.

“My boss is paying rent from his savings money thinking business was going to be better but it’s still the same,” Guillan said.

No more than 10 yards from the deli, Omar Ismail operates a cart in front of the west entrance to the 72nd Street subway. He moved from his 79th Street location to his current spot following the station’s opening earlier this month. Like Express Stop 72, Ismail’s cart sells coffee, juice and a variety of sandwiches.

“I don’t really know who’s complaining” Ismail said. “I get a lot of police, they come to me and just talk about it but I’m really not hurting anyone. It’s competition basically, that’s just how it works.”

Once a food cart vendor is granted a permit by the Department of Health, they are free to set up on any sidewalk that is at least 12 feet wide and is not on the city’s restricted list. Despite the competition, Ismail does not see his presence as taking away loyal patrons from local establishments.

“I believe if they like the restaurant they’re just going to go to the restaurant, that’s just how it works,” he said.

But longtime Upper East Side resident Linda Burak believes the increase of food carts near her 68th Street home are encroaching on local establishments.

“There’s a wonderful neighborhood institution called Beach Cafe, been there for 15 years, and next to him is something called Beijing Wok, which has been there forever, and suddenly there’s a food truck in front of him,” Burak said of two businesses just south of 70th Street on Second Avenue. “These are businesses that have stayed through all that construction that are neighborhood businesses. What the hell is a food truck doing there?”

For Burak, not only are the carts creating competition for these longstanding restaurants, but they are causing congestion on the sidewalks, particularly early in the morning and around lunch time.

“It just seems to me that there’s been such a proliferation and what it means is lines of people on their phones standing there, you can’t walk by,” she said.

Clynes said the overabundance of the food trucks and carts were an unforeseen result of the subway’s opening.

“The Second Avenue subway has all good intentions,” he said, “but with all good intentions comes unintended consequences.”

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