Canal Street counterfeit operation just goes on and on

The NYPD made a big announcement after their Operation Bag Guys back in August, but here we are three months later and nothing seems to change on Canal Street.

Officers from the Patrol Services Bureau made five arrests on August 12 and seized what they said was $2 million worth of counterfeit bags, watches, sneakers and sunglasses, and while it stayed a bit quieter for about a week, the vendors were back in full force by September. (J. sends me regular reports and I grab pics when I am over that way.)

The NYPD said the raid was a result of community-driven complaints, and in fact the officers were part of the quality of life initiative with the bureau. (They come equipped with a professionally trained staff person who confirms the bags are counterfeit too.) “And we know the money raised by the sale of these counterfeit goods is used to fund criminal enterprises throughout New York City,” said Deputy Chief Benjamin Gurley at the press conference.

Still, what good did it do? The sidewalks are still impassable. Not to mention the trademark infringement. Out of frustration, neighbor Raphael A. started a petition recently to “show law enforcement that as citizens we care about our city.” Sign it here.

Is there a chance for original thinking around this problem?

Readers commenting on this post from August note a couple important facts:

  • It is illegal to sell counterfeit goods but it is NOT illegal to buy them. Even though the U.S. code says it is illegal to traffic in counterfeit goods, the Department of Justice states it is not a crime to purchase counterfeit goods, even if the consumer knew the goods were infringing on a trademark.
  • James noted that in 2013 Councilmember Chin proposed a bill that would make it a Class A misdemeanor to purchase counterfeit merchandise, with either $1,000 fine or up to a year in jail. The mayor’s office refused to support it. The Brooklyn DA said it would not be an enforceable law, because one could not easily prove the buyer’s knowledge. The City Council committee chair refused to push the bill forward.



  1. The other day, I actually saw guys playing three card monte on Broadway and Canal. In front of the police. I don’t I’ve ever seen that in the last 20 years of living in NYC.

    Plus the long running open fire pit on Canal and Church.

    • The real problem is quality of life, when you have over 100 men standing around crowding the street smoking weed getting drunk all day and selling drugs now and counterfeit together that’s a real problem. Make no mistake they sell drugs now not just counterfeit, I know this cause I’m on the street every day and this escalation just started recently. The residents and retailors in the area are constantly under duress all day cause of it. I know two retailors that got their windows broken because they asked the counterfeiters not to block the entrance way to their stores. They behave as a gang when there all together selling their illegal goods. There are also some single moms that live in the area with their kids and have to walk by them through the weed smoke and poor footing to get into their apartment.

  2. They play 3 card Monty in front of the Chase Bank on Broadway and block entrance. There’s a security guard sitting inside the doors of the bank, who does nothing.

  3. Maybe it’s time to revisit the idea of making it illegal to (knowingly) buy counterfeit goods.

  4. In conversations I and others have had with police officers over the past months, we have repeatedly heard from them that they are powerless to do anything. That any arrests are pointless as the sellers are out in a few hours. The police say nothing will change unless the government and laws change. Obviously even the occasional raid and seizure does nothing.

    Still, can’t the following be done NOW even with the current laws?

    – REPEATED seizure of the goods. I mean DAILY until the selling is simply no longer profitable due to the losses. If the problem starts up again, here or in another area, immediately start seizures again.

    – enforcing existing laws, like blockage of sidewalks, vending without a permit, etc. by repeatedly chasing them away, even if arrests are not done.

    – public information campaign – signs, flyers, brochures, info on tourism and NYC web sites, required posted in the tourist buses, in transit stations, etc. informing of the illegal nature of this activity and how it funds organized crime and supposedly even terrorism.

    Maybe others have additional ideas of what can be done NOW. Incidentally, I hear from more and more friends and colleagues who are Democrats that they will be voting Republican as a result of the sense of lawlessness. So such hands-off non-enforcement of this and other crimes has political implications as well.

    Meanwhile the downward spiral of this city into criminality and decay continues.

    • I think what you’re describing here is the Police refusal to do their job because in their eyes the effort isn’t worth it. They are now the law, they are suppose to uphold the law.

      I do find it interesting that this is 1: Still going on, but also 2: Such a hot topic. I remember hearing about Canal street when I was young and far from NYC. Not that this means it’s a lost cause, just an observation.

      • Some possible reasons the topic is coming to the fore recently:

        – It has gotten much worse since the pandemic
        – It has spread down into the neighborhood more from Canal Street, down Church and Broadway to Lispenard and Walker Street
        – perhaps also new people moving into the neighborhood who don’t find this acceptable
        – long-time residents and property and business owners of the area just getting fed up with it
        – it seems there used to be more enforcement….the guys used to pack and run, or at least hide their wares away, when they saw the police. Now they don’t even react. They have it out on tables and police walk by and pay no attention

        • Good point.. I do remember a day when they’d keep everything in sheets to be able to run quickly.. It was part of my negotiating strategy (so, yes, I have been part of the problem..)

    • I do think this comment is interesting: “I hear from more and more friends and colleagues who are Democrats that they will be voting Republican as a result of the sense of lawlessness. So such hands-off non-enforcement of this and other crimes has political implications as well.”

      However, I think you are putting the cart before the horse. Politics is the *cause* of non-enforcement, not the effect. Have we all forgotten “defund the police”, “bail reform”, “marijuana legalization”, district attorneys who choose not to prosecute low-level offenses such as transit fare evasion and to seek lesser charges for certain “armed” burglaries and store robberies?

      Police officers and police departments are not going to enforce or be directed to enforce low-level crime in this political environment. This environment is the result of the policies and politicians that many citizens wanted and pushed for. Be careful what one wishes for.

      We need to return to “broken windows” policing, but administer it in a competent, non-abusive way. One big difference now is that police officers wear body cameras to document interactions with the public.

      • Please run for Mayor, James!

        • Even if people don’t agree with everything Zeldin stands for (myself included) one party rule hasn’t been a good thing for NY and the democrats needs a shakeup. How many political scandals and cases of corruption do we need before people realize this isn’t working. Our city isn’t safe and is getting worse – something has to change.

          All Hochul does is blame others for everything that has gone wrong and has no guts to standup for law abiding New Yorkers. We all deserve better.

          • Just have to point out, this problem pre-dates most of the elected officials now. The political climate has made some people believe Republicans will be the quick fix to all our problems! ( when was the last time that had happened?) So they would deploy Proud Boys and Oath Keepers with AR-15 chasing down illegals on Canal/Broadway?
            Also comments regarding the money made would fund criminal activities or terrorism are baseless and inflammatory, unhelpful and dangerous.

      • Yes. It seems that many who promoted or at least were sympathetic to the defund/etc. movements are now experiencing some serious regret.

  5. they sell drugs too in and around the madness. well perhaps they always have but more open

  6. Every day I have to zig zag my way to the N, Q, R. Selfishly, I would prefer to just give them a dedicated, non-sidewalk space to hawk their wares while the IP owners battle the city to protect their brands. If people want to buy this counterfeit junk – and then grab a snack in the neighborhood, let them waste their money – but could we at least keep the sidewalks clear? If a couple police stood on each side of Broadway between Walker and Canal every day, on patrol, how hard would it be to keep them from piling their junk on the sidewalk. Too much to write a citation, fine. But they could at least say, “no, get outta here.”

  7. I find it delightful that nobody in this thread realizes that the fine men and women of the NYPD are active participants in the Canal Street counterfeit business. Beat cops are routinely paid off by vendors.

  8. I love 3 card monte!
    They also have the 3 soda cap game with the little red ball that you have to guess which cap it is under.
    Street games are great again!
    I just wish they would get of the counterfeit people to make room for more game play

  9. One problem is the cited people don’t show up to court because they not in the country legally. They give fake addresses and no one can track the “John Doe” names they give the police.

    The police could seize the goods as “evidence” but they would need facilities and people to house and maintain piles of fakes. This would take some money.

    The city makes money from the trade with tourists going to legit soho boutiques and Chinatown restaurants. The people of Supreme and Tapestry (Coach and Kate Spade) don’t have to lobbying or draw the voting power to curtail. The DOT could shut these vendors down for safety reasons but pedestrian safety is non-issue along Canal Street…only a handful of deaths per year!

  10. I’ve lived downtown for almost 50 years but I was really shocked to see the extent of the counterfeit bazaar the other day. Please see my video here:

    Criminalizing purchasing these goods would go a long way to solving this rampant lawlessness.

    • Thank you Allan, videos are worth a thousand words. The world of counterfeit is brimming with societal ills and powerlessness of everyday people in defending their basic quality of life in the some think ‘ the greatest city in the world’. This is not a new phenomenon but a ever morphing one. I have witnessed some of the vendors growing from young to grey like myself, remembering the walkie-talkie phase after the early crack-down when they lined up on Canal and alerted one another whenever police approached from blocks away. A daily cat and mouse game on display.
      Covid has brought many new business opportunities as well as new threats to our public space, most notably the unchecked outdoor dining and counterfeit vendors expansion. Sadly there is no reason to believe either will ever go away.

    • Thanks for the video Allan. I have mixed feelings about these vendors and the whole issue. This has been going on forever. I remember guys selling fake watches in Battery Park 20 years ago.
      I don’t see it a a political issue. It has continued through both Republican and Democrat administrations in the city and the state.

    • Thanks for the video. What an embarrassment to this city.

  11. I don’t think anyone here cares about counterfeit merchandise. Passing a law to make it illegal to buy is absurd (more laws!). As usual, with everything in this city, it’s enforcement and NYPD stands idly by. Why can’t they do their jobs. They’ve never been defunded. I don’t care if someone is released the next day whether they pay bail or not, arrest them again. The NYPD just needs to sack up and return to policing like they did pre-pandemic.

    • Once and for all, this is not a policemen issue! It goes all the way to the top, what we see on the street is the tip of the iceberg. Why do you think it’s going stronger than ever after almost 30 years? From store fronts on Canal to back alley dealing to the open bazaar now? All the Senegalese didn’t just parachute in one day on their own. Why does the city turn a blind eye all these years? Why has there never been accountability? Downtown has turned into almost a permanent crime scene exacerbated by Covid, suddenly no law applies!

  12. Three Card Monte Dealers never lose.

    In regard to people selling and Buying at Canal and Broadway

    this has been the Street scene there for at least Thirty years.

    While unsightly it does bring the Tourists to the neighborhood.

    • Do these tourists provide any net benefit to the neighborhood? If their preference is for cheap counterfeits, are they really likely to also shop in Soho boutiques or dine in Tribeca restaurants? More likely they just continue on, with their criminal junk in hand, to the 9/11 memorial or Wall Street etc. which have no problem drawing tourists anyway. Or they get back on their tourist buses.

      I, for one, would not miss tourists who think it’s acceptable to give their cash to organized crime rings.

      Isn’t it possible that this “unsightly” and illegal mess actually drives away other tourists and visitors, including NYC residents, not to mention legitimate businesses and their customers? I know I try to avoid any block or street taken over by these hawkers. Sadly I have to make my way through this mess to get to the subway, and the sellers are often operating right on our street. If I didn’t live in the area, I would NEVER come to the area where they are.

      So it would be interesting to see a study as to the full effects of the presence of the sellers, from the costs they incur in lost legitimate business revenue, to the intellectual property theft, to the loss of tax and licensing revenue, gain or loss to local businesses, effects on rental of nearby commercial and residential space, effect on property values, effect on other crime and safety, cleanliness, graffiti, etc.

  13. I’m surprised no one mentioned the stench of urine and ton of garbage on the side of the Canal Street Post Office.
    Isn’t there a fine for peeing on a public street?
    There was a long,long,long time ago when Giuliani was fairly normal and he cracked down on quality of life crimes.
    When the squeegee men were aggressively stopping cars on the Bowery and Houston demanding money, it set up a” free for all”environment. People with illegal intentions would see that there was no enforcement or accountability and think “look these guys are getting away with demanding money, I think I’ll graffiti this building.Then that would set up an environment for those people to sell drugs,urinate on the street,break car windows, mug people etc…
    The police should have a special task force to go out every day and confiscate all their goods, so it’s not worth it for them to keep resupplying .

    • The public urination (and worse) is a serious and disgusting problem in the area. It’s often those very counterfeit sellers peeing everywhere. I’ve seen them pee on the walls of the buildings, in the Lispenard parking lot, on the mailboxes, and even on the sides of backs or cars. I confronted one once and he just said something like, “There is nowhere else to go. Want me to do it on your building?”

      And yes, the increase in graffiti is a problem, since the pandemic already. Our super has had to re-paint our building front multiple times as a result.

      • The perennial scaffolding at 401 Broadway doesn’t help. I think there should be a law for buildings to hose down the sidewalk whenever scaffolding’s are installed. Since rain can’t do the job for them. Scaffoldings become shelters and bathrooms for both dogs and human. A long ignored problem.

  14. Its just a nightmare walking through there. I feel for the small businesswoman or man who takes the time to go through the City’s maze to get permits etc. While I dont begrudge anyone making a living, you cant just flout laws. Its more about protecting the people who obey the law, whether just a pedestrian or someone who pours life savings into their mom and pop shop. Or anyone. Im signing the petition. Oh I am 6ft 4 inches tall and last year when I walked through that area, i bumped into some guy selling that crap (he was tall too) and he seemed like he wanted to start a fight. I mean safety ?

  15. Impassible sidewalks and garbage left all over the place after they pack up at night significantly effects the quality of life for all us who live nearby. It is pointless for the cops to arrest any of these perpetrators because DA Alvin Bragg has made it clear that his department will not prosecute any of them. New Yorkers have only themselves to blame for this chaos because DA Bragg made it perfectly clear what his intentions were and he still got elected with 84% of the vote. None of this will change until New Yorkers change the way they vote. Until then, we get the government we deserve.

    • Yes, this is the message I’ve gotten from police with whom I have discussed this mess (and other instances of increased criminality in the city). They say nothing will change until the government changes.

      I had high hopes for Adams, but so far, if anything, under his mayorship matters have gotten worse. I don’t know if that’s his fault or he is just being blocked, but the end result is the same: “urban decay”, as it was once called.

  16. I have a storage bin at the Manhattan MiniStorage facility at Varick and Spring. Whenever I’m there I always see more than a few people loading up rolling carts with what certainly looks like goods they intend to sell on the street. Perhaps the police could intercept them there and confiscate the counterfeit goods before they even get to Canal and Broadway.

    • That might be worth reporting via 311 with typical times and days you see this happening.

    • Perhaps the trademark holders and their IP attorneys should surveil, investigate, and put Manhattan Mini Storage on notice and remind them of their exposure.

      Under New York Real Property Law § 231 (“NYRPL”), a landlord who knowingly permits a tenant to engage in an unlawful trade, manufacture or business on the premises is jointly and severally liable with the tenant for any resulting damages. New York courts have sustained claims for landlord liability for trademark counterfeiting and infringement under NYRPL § 231(2).

      Additionally, under federal law, courts have held that landlords may be liable for trademark violations of their tenants if they knew or had reason to know that the trafficking of counterfeit goods was taking place. Courts are clear that willful blindness is sufficient to establish a landlord’s knowledge for counterfeiting liability.

  17. So is it currently legal or illegal to buy counterfeit junk?

    I see conflicting info.

    The US Customs and Border Protection site says it is illegal:

    “It is illegal to purchase counterfeit goods. Bringing them into the United States may result in civil or criminal penalties.”

    This law site says it both is and is not illegal:
    “18 U.S. Code Section 2320 states it is illegal to traffic in counterfeit goods. Under this section of the Code, it is a violation of the law to produce, sell, or transport counterfeit goods. Under this law, it is illegal to purchase counterfeit goods. However, the U.S. Department of Justice views counterfeit goods differently. This agency states it is not a crime to purchase counterfeit goods, even if the consumer knew the goods were infringing on a trademark.”

    • I think the problem is it’s impossible to prove that the consumer knew it was counterfeit, that’s why the sellers are arrested. But I agree, it’s confusing. I found those same two sources and read them 50 times to figure it out…

  18. Another raid:

    Glad to see that, but will it make a difference? Enforcement has to be consistent, and penalties have to be strong enough, to end this.

    (Once again, the Post comments are negative and mocking, assuming that enforcement of this takes away from enforcement of other crimes, which is not a given at all. Indeed, a competing answer would be that deterring “minor” crimes also deters major crimes. Another response is that this is not a victimless crime at all. )

  19. This looks like a another misfire of an idea. What authority, power, expertise, and time do sanitation workers have to enforce laws against street vendors? They will be laughed at or ignored…if they bother to even try to enforce the laws.

    But if it works, that would be lovely. I don’t have high hopes.

    “Street vending in NYC will soon be handled by the sanitation department”