De-Vending Fulton Street

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The city will soon take the “street” out of the vendors who line Fulton Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant. As part of a $3 million grant funneled through the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce to revitalize the shopping strip, the city plans to move the salesmen and their eclectic wares–everything from CDs to incense–from the sidewalks to an empty lot on the corner of Fulton Street and Albany Avenue.

While promoters of the Fulton project are uncertain when the move will be made, they look forward to the change. “We plan to clean up the streets,” says Councilmember Annette Robinson, who has been involved in the planning. “This includes getting rid of graffiti, revamping the lighting, landscaping and getting rid of the street vendors.”

For the informal peddlers, this situation smacks of the troubles some of their vendor colleagues faced on 125th Street in 1994. While the city reports business is going well in the Harlem market where ex-street vendors are now corralled, some Brooklyn vendors have heard otherwise and fear for their own livelihoods. “I got to be near the action to make any money,” says Jah Thomas, whose reggae and clothing business stands near the Nostrand Avenue subway station. Once the program begins this spring, the vendors must move or face arrest, says 79th Precinct community affairs officer Steven Ruffin.

The Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, which owns the vacant property, has leased the space to Central Brooklyn Partnership, a community group, for $2,000 a month for the next year. While the Partnership would not comment for this story, the group reportedly plans to offer business training to help the vendors move their sales y next spring. To that end, it has held weekly meetings with about 20 vendors over the last month.

“We understand that this is how they make their living,” said Robinson. We are trying to give them an opportunity to do that.

As the vendors see it, however, these efforts will not be good enough. Says Siraj Wahhaj, a vendor organizer from the Mosque Masjad At-taqwa, “No one wants to play the bad guy. But in this case, their solution is a joke.”