Illegal vendors on Broadway have multiplied

A couple of readers have emailed about the increased number of vendors selling knock-off designer bags and other merch on Broadway, noting — and it is true — that they have pretty much taken over the entire sidewalk on the west side of Broadway from Walker to Howard. They also own the sidewalks on Lispenard and Canal, especially at the intersection of Church.

There is a lot to unpack here, but it is clear that the problem has been exacerbated by the challenges facing storefront owners right now, as well as a bureaucratic maneuver by the city that seems to be having growing pains. As of this past March, the NYPD is no longer enforcing or ticketing illegal vendors; that job has been handed over to the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection and the brand new Office of Street Vendor Enforcement. They have done some sweeps across the city (The Times covered that here) but I doubt they have the eyes and ears of the police.

Vendors are just trying to make a living, but their presence makes it harder for shop owners to compete, since they do not pay taxes, rent or payroll nor do they have to comply with the many city regulations forced on shopkeepers. I will add that we have allowed restaurants to use our public spaces to make more money, but pre-pandemic a sidewalk café required a license and a fee.

“The reality is that we can either have street vendors or we can have storekeepers in a vibrant neighborhood,” said one reader in an email who asked to be anonymous. “​In addition, the street vendors just add to a general sense and feeling that NYC is increasingly out of control and that taxpaying and law abiding storekeepers and residents are no longer a priority. The street vendors certainly do not create an inviting environment for other shopp​ers​​​, tourists​ and the storekeeper’s staff.”


The Street Vendor Project approaches it from the other side, defending vendors as people who are “asking for nothing more than a chance to sell their goods on the public sidewalk.”

“Vendors have been victims of New York’s aggressive ‘quality of life’ crackdown,” the Street Vendor Project maintains. “They have been denied access to vending licenses…They receive exorbitant tickets for minor violations like vending too close to a crosswalk — more than any big businesses are required to pay for similar violations.”

For its part, the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection only started enforcement on June 1, and it is still exploring the most effective models. A spokesperson there said they have inspected the scene in Tribeca and Chinatown, interviewing hundreds of vendors and trying to promote compliance (though other than leaving the sidewalk, I am not sure what kind of compliance will work in our case).

They did share some stats with me: since January 15, DCWP had received 4,664 complaints about vending and 113 of them have been about Tribeca and Chinatown. (You can call 311 or visit to file a complaint about street vending.) Since June 1, DCWP has conducted 2,139 vending inspections in response to complaints and issued 421 violations. There were 77 inspections here and no violations issued.

The department cannot ask vendors to provide ID, and they cannot confiscate merchandise, as the NYPD could previously. But they can issue fines: unlicensed general vending ranges from $250 + $250/day to $1,000 + $250/day for continued unlicensed activity. The fine for unlicensed food vending ranges from $150 to $1,000 + $100/day for continued unlicensed activity.

A bit more background: A General Vendor license is necessary to sell or lease goods or services in a public place. The number of licenses is limited to 853, but there is no limit for veterans who live in New York State. As a result, the city says there are currently just over 2,000 licensed general vendors.

“Vending is a complicated issue that touches us all — from the vendors themselves to local businesses to residents and visitors,” the spokesperson said. “Our goal is to hear concerns from everyone involved and strike a balanced approach that is equitable for all, which includes ongoing education coupled with scaled, strategic enforcement, especially in problematic areas.”



  1. If they can’t ask for ID, how can they prove continued activity?

    • This is such a nuisance. I would just add that it is creating a safety hazard and that people with disabilities are not able to pass through the area.

      There has to be some solution here.

  2. Mayor and city council are basically saying they are ok with this, this form of street vending should be illegal and cleaned up, it hurts the tax paying small businesses, they sell stolen goods, vendors harass people walking by even if you can walk by. When did this city become this tolerant to this, open drug use, homeless roaming the streets and attacking people? oh I know about 8 years ago when we elected a no show mayor.

  3. This is silly. These people are hawking counterfeit merchandise. It is in no way comparable to legal commerce on the streets. The police never did much enforcement anyhow and the City Council paid it all lip service.

  4. Y’all know that many of the stores, or parking lots, etc, get a cut of the street vend, right?

  5. Walked through it Saturday. It’s overwhelming. Don’t know the best answer for all.

  6. Apparently the city believes the answer is to do nothing.

    For years I have watched several police officer patrolling the area and directing traffic daily right in front of these vendors without even turning their heads.

  7. New York City will face multi-billion dollar budget deficits in the coming years. The current crop of politicians will be retiring soon with their hefty pensions and generous healthcare coverage.
    These politicians choose to ignore reality and are consciously allowing both the tax base and the quality of life to deteriorate dramatically. The political class has little or no sympathy for the residents and storekeepers in our area.
    The increasing tax burden will fall on the current residents and the businesses that are able to survive.

    • Agreed with Larry. Quality of life has gone downtime after Bloomberg left office. I think it will be even worse when the Congestion Pricing becomes effective in 2023. Downtown neighborhoods will be hurt real bad. We will be charged when vehicles enter and for every day when car remains in the zone. Currently, there is only exemptions for residents making less than $60k/year. It’s basically a tax on car ownership. It will affect us even if we don’t have a car, all the deliveries and prices of goods in our neighborhood will go up. Submit a comment with MTA here:

      • De Bl*ASS*io and friends continuing onwards with their campaign to strip every possible reason people may have for living here in NYC…
        Fortunately he too is running out of time.

        Cannot wait to see him leave office

        • Do I call 311 on the Amazon delivery man who I asked very kindly to stop urinating on the sidewalk on Reade Street/Greenwich in the middle of the afternoon? And again today.

  8. This third world bazaar sells knock-offs of trademarked brands, ripping off intellectual property and undercutting prices in stores that pay taxes, payrolls, licensing fees.

    The city has become a increasingly lawless place under DeBlasio. Looking forward to seeing Adams restore some sense of order. So far, he is talking a good game.

  9. While I agree with most of the feedback posted here I don’t think we can have a conversation about the appropriate use of public sidewalks without including how Whole Foods, Amazon and Fresh Direct have taken over streets in our neighborhood.

    Warren between West and Greenwich, W. Broadway just north of NYLaw are just 2 examples of where multi-billion $& public companies use public spaces for private purposes with seemingly no compensation to the neighborhood or city.

    • Agreed. I’d say those are *additional* problems though to be dealt with, not problems to be dealt with *instead* of these problems.

      Note that Amazon Prime members get Whole Foods deliveries for free (if more than a certain amount – $35?). Now there will be a $9.95 surcharge added to every such grocery order. Supposedly grocery delivery orders tripled during the pandemic. Even before this $9.95 surcharge, Whole Foods / Amazon should have to pay their way for commercial space to do their packaging and sorting. Now there’s an additional fee which will take in additional millions or billions; there’s no excuse.

  10. So the city has had, oh, 200 years to figure out how to manage street vendors and hasn’t yet arrived at the answer – one that is clear, enforced evenly, and effective.

    We all want to “just make a living” but are constrained by law from pursuing a variety of occupations. If that’s the basis for public policy, let’s go all the way and toss the idea of business licenses, occupancy permits, fire exits, payroll taxes and everything else.

    Do the vendors comply with mandatory sick leave policies and family leave obligations?

    Blocks of empty, desolate storefronts, resurging graffiti, three quarter empty sidewalks, vacant offices, a collapsing tax base, and politicians arguing that “giving more stuff away for ‘free’ ” doesn’t seem to bode well for the next ten or more years.

    Although I’m just guessing here.

  11. First world country falls to Fourth world one. Time to start scouting some place new. Long timey New Yorker losing any remaining pride in “what was”. Living between the high life of Met Fashion and downtown low life has ended for me. No appeal to either.

  12. People have a right to try to make a living, and it sounds like the vending license system needs reform. Regardless, vendors have to comply with other laws, including paying of taxes like every other business, and intellectual property laws. There are also ethical considerations, even if laws are unenforced. Counterfeiting/piracy is not a victimless crime. It’s exploitative and destroys legitimate jobs, as well as eroding tax income, which then surely leads to higher taxes and fees on legitimate businesses and workers. There’s the human rights question of the the labor conditions under which those counterfeits are produced.

    “…2018 counterfeiting was the largest criminal enterprise in the world. Sales of counterfeit and pirated goods totals $1.7 trillion per year, which is more than drugs and human trafficking. It is expected to grow to $2.8 trillion and cost 5.4 million jobs by 2022.”

    “Counterfeit products are often produced in violation of basic human rights and child labor laws and human rights laws, as they are often created in illegal sweatshops. Clothing manufacturers often rely on sweatshops using children in what some consider “slave labor” conditions.”

    It’s not just the vendors; anyone who buys the items is just as guilty and part of the problem.

  13. Addendum: Where does the trillions (yes, trillions) of dollars of counterfeit/pirated goods income go?

    Apparently it’s funding organized crime organizations. In some cases, there’s supposedly evidence that it funds terrorism as well.

    If so, then anyone buys these products is supporting organized crime, and potentially even terrorism.

    “The profits often support terrorist groups, drug cartels, people smugglers and street gangs. The FBI has found evidence that a portion of the financing of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing came from a store selling counterfeit T-shirts. The same has been found surrounding many other organized crime activities…the sales of counterfeit goods funded the Charlie Hebdo attack of 2016 in Paris, which left 12 people dead and nearly a dozen more injured. Sales of pirated CDs have been linked to funding the 2004 Madrid train bombing, and investigations firm Carratu connects money from counterfeit goods to Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, the Japanese Yakuza, the ETA, and the Russian Mob.
    The crackdown on counterfeit goods has not only become a matter of human rights but one of national and international security in various countries. The FBI has called product counterfeiting “the crime of the 21st century.””

    “Consumers may choose to actively dismiss these unclear origins of product when a trendy style is available for little money. The previous French terrorist attack in 2015 at Charlie Hebdo Newspaper has been traced back to being funded by counterfeit product. According to Tommy Hilfiger’s Alastair Grey, terrorists bought the guns used with funds gained from selling illegal luxury sneakers. This is more normal than consumers may think…The cause and effect of this discounting of crime is giving sellers money to partake in terrorism, human trafficking and child labour.”

    • I am tired of Canal being a pit of tacky counterfeit goods, but it clearly draws tourists and perhaps NYers, who actively seek out these items. I wish the city would crack down on them and get rid of them. Perhaps if they could bust the buyers for knowingly purchasing counterfeit items, it would end the appeal.

  14. In addition to the products taking up a lot of space on the street, I recently saw some men cooking meat on the sidewalk on some sort of makeshift pile of charcoal. While I commend the scrappiness, I do worry about open flames on the sidewalk as a hazard and not something we should worry about when walking by with young children and strollers!

  15. Canal street looks like skidrow! Those street sellers have ruin the small stores around Canal, even if they sold counterfeit items their store fronts was always better than the trash you see on the street now.

  16. Indeed there is a lot to unpack here. Selling counterfeit goods, unlicensed vendors, sidewalk congestion during height of Covid, unbridled occupation of public space, no sign of city government intervention…and we are only talking about the Africans here. Chinese vendors after years ( decades?) of shape shifting are becoming all the more mobile and have spreaded deep into Chinatown and Little Italy as well as Soho.
    Supply chain of counterfeit goods is global and immense, illegal immigration is on going, incompetence of the city government is omnipresent.
    Right now downtown NYC is in a dangerously mismanaged state, politicians will continue to kick the can down the road and store fronts will remain empty for years to come.
    What are we supposed to do?

  17. This problem creates an unfair situation that will ultimately cause resentment. I have to walk in the street to get by and even then the drug use is obvious. Also, it does not feel safe. Why do we pay exorbitant taxes and we cannot even use the sideways? It is outrageous. Is there a neighbourhood rep who can spearhead some action about this? Who do we write to? Who is our local rep?

    • By the number of comments it is clear this is an issue many residents have frustration with. Who is the appropriate representative we can speak to about this?

  18. What’s the right way to log complaints about this?
    What category under 311 does it fall under?
    Or is there someone else to contact about it?
    Community Board? City Council?

  19. I remember in the 1970’s and 1980’s when I worked midtown and there would be street vendors from the Caribbean and African countries (I heard their voices) selling “designer” bags or fake Rolexes and there was always one of them being a lookout for the police because all of a sudden you would see them pack up their blankets full of merchandise and they’d run like crazy! I worked downtown by City Hall for many years (until 2020) and when I went down there recently, there were many street vendors selling illegal items.

  20. Unfortunately this isn’t new. I complained in the 2000’s to no avail. It had been covered by TC a decade ago.

    Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia had the same problem too but he at least created covered markets like the now defunct Essex Street Market, among many others. These worked for a long time.

    Maybe call Mayor Blah Blah Blah on WNYC on Friday on Brian Lehrer’s Call the Mayor segment. 212 433 9692 (around 10am-12noon). Guaranteed the Mayor will say “call my office” or the usual runaround but it will be on the air which might help.

    Can you image if the tourists really came back to the city? Will they ever?

  21. Looks to me like the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection and the brand new Office of Street Vendor Enforcement need a few hundred protesters knocking on their doors.

  22. As per The Street Vendor Project “…New York’s aggressive ‘quality of life’ crackdown…”
    Really?! When did that happen? I must’ve missed it.

  23. Enforcement has clearly dropped off. Even two years ago, the vendors existed but did not take up as much sidewalk space.
    All could be solved by arresting a nice sweet lady from the midwest who just wanted a fake gucci.

    Rather than calling in complaints to 311–which people should do, what are our local representatives doing about this and congestion pricing carve-outs? Are they just waiting around for residents to sign petitions and stage sit ins? The outer boroughs are organized on this front which is why congestion pricing has been in limbo for all these years.

  24. Make your voices heard. Maybe if enough people register their concerns, change will happen (although probably not until we have a new mayor).

    Here’s the DCWP (Department of Consumer and Worker Protection) to “File a Consumer Complaint”

    You either have to create an account and fill out a form, or go through 311 (which can be anonymous).

    If you want to complain via 311, here’s the direct link:

    If you want to report specifically about counterfeiting, the page says to call 311 instead of doing the online form:

    You can still be anonymous in a 311 call, I believe.

  25. Get them out!!! They’re trouble makers! They need to all leave that area so people can feel safe as well. We don’t need that fake garbage they sell and taking up space on the sidewalk making it difficult for anyone to walk especially if you have a carriage.