NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — As New York City reopens, tourism is slowly returning, but so are unlicensed street vendors.
Some people in Chinatown and SoHo say the so-called fake bag bonanza is taking over their neighborhoods in a way they’ve never seen before.
Tourist Felicia Waller, from North Carolina, showed CBS2’s Lisa Rozner the bogus bling she picked up on Canal Street near Broadway — a Rolex watch for $60 and a Louis Vuitton wristlet for $40.
“They kinda bombard you and try to get you to buy,” Waller said.
“We got some Louis Vuitton, and some, I think we got a Gucci purse or something,” said Kevin Willis, who is visiting from Jamaica. “We’re looking more for affordability.”
The pickup in tourism is harmonious with what locals say is a pickup in peddlers, who scrammed as soon as CBS2’s cameras showed up.
Eric Penn says it’s hurting businesses like his. He owns the SoHo Market on Broadway near Howard Street. The shop is filled with independent vendors.
“We chase them away. People coming up are constantly being accosted. You can’t even walk on the sidewalk there,” he said. “We all pay rent. We all have legitimate sales tax IDs.”
Locals say empty storefronts that accumulated throughout the pandemic have made it easier for illegal vendors to set up shop.
“The sidewalk technically belongs to the property owner,” said Wellington Chen, executive director of the Chinatown Business Improvement District.
Penn says in the past, when police confiscated illegal goods, it made a difference, at least for a short time.
In December, however, the mayor said it’s not their job to patrol unlicensed vendors anymore and they “must be able to focus on the real drivers of crime.”
The announcement followed controversial illegal vendor arrests, including a woman who was selling churros at a Brooklyn subway station in 2019.
Now, only the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection can issue tickets.
“They tear ’em up. They don’t pay ’em,” Penn said.
Rozner approached several street vendors. They said they only take cash and offered to take her to a back room down an alley to see the merchandise.
“It’s a concern for all of us, so when you say what is there that we can do at City Council, we can push City Hall to make sure that if DCWP is going to be the oversight agency, that they’re properly staffed to do so,” said Councilman Mark Gjonaj.
Local businesses hope the new mayor will intervene on the issue.