Seen & Heard: Counterfeit-Bag Vendors Remain Unchecked

••• “Not sure if you covered this spot,” emailed S. about Wu Kong, at Canal and Lafayette. (Nope!) “Passed by a couple of times but finally went in today. It’s ice cream with a twist—well, covered with any toppings and wrapped by cotton candy.”

••• Speaking of Canal Street, I was appalled at how much the vendors of counterfeit bags have taken over the intersection of Canal and Broadway. They lay their wares out all over the sidewalk, clogging an already difficult intersection, forcing pedestrians into the street. Why does the 1st Precinct turn a blind eye?

••• Those of you missing Christina Lehr’s store—about to reopen as Jack’s Stir Brew Coffee—take heed: 180 is carrying the line.

••• Last month, when the storefront at 8 Jay was announced as sold, the buyer was described as “a user.” But now he/she appears to have decided to try and rent it out.

••• The sales office coming to the former Matsugen/66 space at 66 Leonard is getting close to opening, if the plants are any indication. Then again, I had heard it was for the conversion of 346 Broadway (a.k.a. 108 Leonard), which is stuck in a legal fight, so it may be a while. Anyway, nice to see that beautiful entrance come back to life.

UPDATE: I had to turn the comments off, due to spam. If you’d like to add something, email tribecacitizen@gmail.com.

38 Comments

  1. My wife (a handbag designer) called the police on the bag bazaar at Canal and Broadway, blocking sidewalk traffic and selling illegal merchandise, and the police officer on the phone said and I quote: “there’s nothing we can do.”

  2. Counterfeiting in Chinatown goes back at least 50 years and will not go away anytime soon. There was a crackdown many years ago but a) didn’t do much to deter vendors and b) the likes of Prada and Chanel didn’t suffer all the much despite cautionary tales of how counterfeiting would be the downfall of all retail establishments.

  3. It’s not just de Blasio and the 1st Precinct. City Councilmember Margaret Chin has gotten nothing done on the counterfeit front, basically watching it get worse whIle proposing unpassable legislation than she cannot gain support for.

    1) NY Times April 26, 2011:

    But Councilwoman Margaret S. Chin, whose district includes Chinatown, plans to introduce legislation on Thursday that would make it the city’s business as well. Ms. Chin’s proposed bill would make it a misdemeanor to buy fake designer merchandise. If the bill passes, violators like Ms. Whitam could face a $1,000 fine, a year in jail, or both. […]

    “In Chinatown, people can come and shop for some really authentic goods, and we want them to really experience the neighborhood, not just come down and buy these fake knockoffs,” [Councilwoman Margaret S. Chin] said. “We want to be known for our museums, our shops, our restaurants.”

    2) NY Daily News, June 13, 2013:

    “We gotta do something,” Chin said. “[The black market in counterfeit goods] is really having a severe impact on quality of life.”

    3) DNAinfo, November 5, 2013:

    Chin and Vallone introduced a bill last week that would make it illegal to make, distribute or store fake designer goods in a New York City building.

    “This legislation takes the city’s efforts against the counterfeit trade a step further by targeting the buildings that house the nuts and bolts of this illegal industry,” Chin said in a statement.

    4) NBC News, March 13, 2015:

    But Chinatown is where Chin grew up, and she naturally worries that some of the main tourist draws have become fake designer bags and watches.

    “I don’t want Chinatown to be known as the counterfeit capital,” said Chin.

    Police have targeted counterfeit sellers in Chinatown with varying success, prompting Chin to introduce a bill in 2011 to empower law enforcement to fine those making the purchases. “The fact that you have a law letting people know – that would deter a lot more,” she said.

    There was a hearing for the bill in 2013, but it was never brought to a vote, said Sam Spokony, Chin’s spokesman. Chin hopes to reintroduce an amended version before the end of the current council term in 2017, he said.

    But some Chinese-American business owners have expressed fear that such a measure might discourage tourists who buy fake goods from dining in Chinatown, thus hurting the local economy. Chin disagrees. “The sad part is, a lot of people come, buy the stuff, and leave,” she said.

    5) ABC7 Eyewitness News, November 23, 2016:

    Community leaders say enforcement was better under the previous administration.

    They say back then there were about 40 so-called street dealers in all of Chinatown.

    On this day Eyewitness News found 40 in just four blocks!

    “Definitely gotten worse!” Councilmember Margaret Chin said.

    Councilmember Chin says counterfeiters are hurting legitimate business owners.

    “Tourists go into their store where they sell good quality name brand products and they expect it to be cheap,” Chin said.

    • “good quality name brand products” are also fashionable crap. I like the corner Broadway/Canal. Its an Afticanized street theater. Much more lively than the quality fashionista brand stores, which are as mindeadly as recent Tribeca architecture.

  4. The counterfeit sellers are a disgrace. It’s creating chaos in the area; one has to walk out in the street. It creates a general atmosphere of criminality and lawlessness.

    What can be done?

    Can we report it as obstruction of the sidewalk at least? Isn’t it illegal to block the sidewalks like that?

    Also, I thought counterfeiting itself is illegal. Why is there no enforcement?

    • The counterfeiting is a crime that has to be pursued by LVMH or Gucci, etc.
      The vendors have no legal identities in the US, so even if they are arrested, they slip through the system because they really don’t exist- they give fake names, fake addresses, say “sure, I’ll show up for my court date…” and then disappear.

      • Crimes aren’t supposed to be “pursued” by private entities, but by law enforcement; that is a problem here. Private entities have leverage only to sue landlords of buildings where counterfeit goods are stored or sold. That leverage does not exist with sidewalk vendors.

  5. It’s gotten much worse since the drug store closed.
    Now that once beautiful building is covered with graffiti and surrounded by trash.

    Report this to 311 any way you can: graffiti report, illegal vending, sidewalk obstruction , noise complaint. If enough complain about how this is wrecking a neighborhood, maybe we’ll get some results.

    • Regarding this vendor issue, don’t vendors need a permit or license to sell on the street? Also, aren’t there laws/rules about the use of public sidewalks? Why isn’t there local Enforcement of these rules?

  6. I wonder if the companies themselves really care, or have given up/are going through the motions. While not addressing Erik’s appropriate outrage, this is a global problem for more brands than we see on Canal Street, which nothing seems to curtail. If they’ve gotten to the point that they’re not making this a priority then there’s no impetus for politicians and government to do anything.

  7. So yes, I called 311 the other night when the handbag and sunglasses outdoor market was completely out of control…
    I was transferred to speak to a police officer who very plainly stated to me “That it’s a whole new world out there ma’am, and we’re very sorry about this but there’s very little we can do. We can send an officer there to ask them to move…” and then continued to tell me that my only real course of action would be to “take this issue up at Town Hall if I want things to change…”
    I said, “So really, you can go to Canal Street and commit any crime you like now?l he said, no, but sorry, “It’s a whole new world out there now.”

    • Thank you for the efforts with calling in the problem…What was implied with the officer’s comment that “It’s a whole new world out there now.”

      Did he mean laws have changed? That criminality in general is increasing?

      • It means, “The 1st Precinct did a little bit before deBlasio took office. Now we use him as an excuse to do nothing. Maybe try the 5th Precinct.”

  8. Oh- one other side note. I’m a handbag designer professionally, and I’m very well educated about “factories” that produce these kinds of “goods”. To say they are “very bad people” who run these “factories” is an under statement. These are not factories. These items are made in illegal cottage sweatshops, and you do not need to have me describe who makes these items and why. It is all connected to human rights issues, human trafficking and the lowest of the low kinds of abuses. When I pass tourists on the street looking to buy items, I tell them – “Don’t buy that. These people are supporting the human trafficking trade”. They know how to prey and benefit from human greed.

    • It seems to be a sleazy and awful business all around.

      It is ruining our immediate neighborhood here in TriBeCa “East”. It’s becoming almost impossible to even get to the subway station. It’s now an obstacle course with these counterfeit sellers, plus all the ones who stand around on the corners and whisper furtively to you as you pass “Gucci”, “Rolex”, etc. Disgusting.

    • What happened to the “broken windows” policy of NYC?

      Wasn’t the logic that allowing relatively minor community crimes (like this one) creates an atmosphere of lawlessness, which encourages more serious crimes, and of course generally degrades the quality of life?

      Thus, it is important to remedy even these seemingly (at least to some potential observers) minor or victimless crimes.

      (I do not believe they are victimless, of course; intellectual property rights are abused and the creators of the originals are not compensated; the local businesses suffer; the local community suffers; those who work in sweat shops to produce this junk…)

      • Really? What happened to Broken Windows? Ask deBlasio. For example, the end of enforcement means there is so much marijuana smoked now on the streets it smells like a skunk farm.

        Ask the 1st Precinct and Councilmember Chin and CB1 why they tolerate the situation on Canal Street.

        • Josh – Thank you for the reply. I am relatively new to the neighborhood; did the Canal situation get much worse that recently?

          I will indeed write to CB1 and Councilmember Chin.

        • In related sidewalk obstruction news, what’s up with Church Street Boxing gym (now on Walker Street) holding its classes out on the sidewalk and even out in the street? It’s impossible to walk by…you either have to walk out into the street or completely cross the street…and if you walk too close, you’re likely to get punched by someone practicing their Ali moves.

  9. While I agree with everything stated, just wanted to chime in with another angle.

    This really hurts retailers, small shops and business growth in the area. There is a reason most of Canal Street is vacant. No clothing store wants to be there as they don’t want their products associated with counterfeit goods.

    So now you have a bunch of empty stores where these counterfeit sellers have more and more room to set up in front of only to create even less reason for any retailer to want to be there.

    CB1 really needs to step up.

  10. I have spoken to some of the remaining storekeepers on Canal Street and they are now claiming that some of the “vendors” have transitioned from counterfeit goods to selling illicit drugs. Not only is the profit margin better, it is easier to handle and, unfortunately, there is little fear of arrest.
    If you allow illegal activity to flourish without any impairment it will continue to expand into other areas and create a general climate of lawlessness.

    • That is exactly my concern. The area feels like a regression to the Wild West, where anything goes. I’ve actually seen police officers walking right by that mess of handbag spreads without saying a word. The silent message they give by this behavior is obvious.

      • If the NY Post’s reporting is correct, the police’s nonchalance (which is also evident in Times Square with the aggressive actions of the “characters”) is related to a de Blasio order that any minor lawbreaking by anyone likely to be undocumented is to be ignored.

        From http://nypost.com/2017/07/31/city-halls-pathetic-excuse-for-letting-the-hulk-ruin-times-square/ : “Some in law enforcement tell The Post that the Times Square problem is that most of the offenders are illegal immigrants, who are to be kept out of the justice system under Team de Blasio’s “sanctuary city” policy. Sounds crazy, but something bizarre is going on when New York cops turn a blind eye to blatant lawbreaking.”

        That could explain the “it’s a whole new world out there” comment too.

  11. Duane Reade
    We recently lost the wonderful Duane Reade store on Canal and Broadway. Perhaps the abundance of illegal vendors that congregated outside this location was a major factor in this store closing.
    As of now, this joins the many vacancies on Canal Street and adds to the general unpleasantness of the area,
    I applaud Councilwoman Chin’s efforts and anyone else that cares about this neighborhood.

    • It most likely closed because of the merger with Rite-Aid.

    • Of course the counterfeiters have proliferated since that store closed, and that beautiful building is now a vandalized eyesore.

      Hopefully once new tenants rent that building, matters will improve slightly. However, the rent is probably so insane that it may remain vacant indefinitely. It actually could be a good site for a legitimate indoor market of some kind, like the Canal Street Market.

  12. This has been going on for at least the forty years I’ve lived in the neighbothood, going back to Ed Koch. Reported many times to no avail. Before the bags there were mostly watches. At least I don’t see too many tour buses with shoppring spree passengers pouring out of them anymore.

  13. bigger problem the massive vehicle traffic on Canal Street and the fumes are poisoning everyone who visits the area.

  14. I agree with everything said and am also frustrated the police do nothing. Even worse than the bags, there is also a woman on the street who sleeps under a blanket right outside 65 Lispenard. She also has a chair there she sits on much of the day. At times, I’ve seen her pick up garbage in the area. I’ve noticed her there for months and assumed she was homeless and just seeking shelter. A few days ago, I saw a man come out from underneath the blanket very early in the morning and pay her. That corner is now also a brothel!

    The broken glass theory is right – counterfeit sales, then drug deals and now prostitution. We must do something!

  15. The distribution center for the Canal St. bag vendors is around the corner on Lispenard which gets backed up when their delivery vehicles double park to unload. These guys hang out there all day on big pieces of cardboard which block the sidewalk. They mostly seem to eat food from the Halal cart on Broadway which comes in styrofoam containers that end up blowing up and down Lispenard in the wind. In the most heavily taxed place in America they get away with paying no sales or income taxes. Multiple 311 calls over several years have yielded no response from the City. There has to be a reason they are allowed to persist. Dare anyone say it might have something to do with Deblasio’s attitude about identity politics?

    • The cardboard seems to be stashed against the building (old Duane Reade building / former bank) at night. Why doesn’t building management discard it all?

    • Don’t blame DeBlasio, this has been going on since they discovered how to fake a Louis Vuitton bag. Since at least Ed Koch if not Beame. I’m a resident since the 70’s and nothing gets changed, maybe a slap on the wrist for show during a sweep but it’s a U turn right back to the streets.

      The big labels don’t really care because it’s free advertisement for them. LV only started being hugely popular since the logo became a household name, in the mid 70’s.

  16. And if I set up a tripod on an empty sidewalk, without a permit, the cops would give me a ticket…

    • Exactly. This is selective enforcement. The question is: WHY?

      I bet I would get a ticket if I set up a lemonade stand on the sidewalk.

  17. I know this is rather simplistic, but New York City should really be on the side of legitimate commerce. By allowing illegal commerce to flourish it drives out the legitimate merchants and adds to the general sense of lawlessness and to the degradation of the human spirit.

    • Exactly. Anyone concerned about this please contact 311 whenever you see it happening; and please write to the Community Board. If enough voices are heard perhaps there can be a positive change.