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‘Shocked’ Flushing Vendors Protest Council Member Who Called for Crackdown

Street sellers say Sandra Ung has ignored them while taking a “stand next to only business owners.”

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Street vendors rally outside of Council Member Ung’s office in Flushing.

Haidee Chu/THE CITY

The Flushing vendors sidelined at Sandra Ung’s recent call for a crackdown on street sellers returned the favor Wednesday morning — by protesting outside the Flushing Councilmember’s local office.

About 40 vendors — most of them Chinese immigrants — stood there for about an hour while calling on the Councilmember, in Mandarin, to “get off stage.” One vendor held a sign in Chinese that declared “Vending Is Life, We Want To Live” while another sign said “Give Us Space To Live.” 

The vendors were responding to Ung’s appearance on Main Street last week, where she was joined by local business owners. She said then that curbside sellers clogged the crowded streets and cut into stores’ sales, while creating “a sense of lawlessness that attracts criminal elements.” 

Those remarks were “very insulting and misinformed,” said 61-year-old Jack Yan, who turned to vending artisan crafts about three years ago after his renovation business shuttered amid the city’s COVID shutdown. “We want to be stakeholders of Flushing.”

61-year-old street vendor Jack Yan holds a sign that reads: “Sandra Ung does not help grassroots member with solutions, only shakes tail at gold masters”

Haidee Chu-THE CITY

The vendors themselves have come up with their own petition to counter one that was announced by Ung last Wednesday. In the English version of their petition, which is also available in Chinese, the vendors noted that they were “shocked” by Ung’s “request to target Flushing, an AAPI majority district, for punitive enforcement on local street vendors.”

The petition also urged Ung to “listen to her low-income, immigrant constituents with basic human compassion,” to “include street vendors … in conversations to address concerns,” and to “work together with vendors and neighbors to establish a pathway to formalize street vending in Downtown Flushing.” 

A 2018 law, introduced by Ung’s predecessor in the Council seat, Peter Koo, prohibits vending in most of the neighborhood.

“Sandra Ung is a Councilmember elected by all of Flushing,” Ms. Liu, a street vendor who asked to be identified only by her family name, said in Mandarin at the protest. “She can’t stand next to only business owners when she speaks.” 

Ms. Liu

Haidee Chu-THE CITY

Ms. Liu continued: “The people who vend these days are all marginalized, we’re all elderly people who can’t find a job. Sandra Ung — does she understand the voices of these people’s hearts?”

Ung, for her part, told THE CITY on Wednesday that “I have sympathy for all New Yorkers trying to make a living.” 

Council Member Sandra Ung

Hiram Alejandro Durán/ THE CITY

The Council member added that “this renewed effort to address this issue is the culmination of over a year of outreach, education, and gradually increasing enforcement through collaboration between my office and city agencies to encourage compliance with the law, but it is clear those efforts have been ineffective and the vacuum of enforcement has only encouraged more vendors to come.”

Ung’s petition asks for more enforcement from the NYPD and the city Department of Consumer and Workplace Protection, which replaced the police as the primary ticketing agency in 2021. But the petition the vendors are now circulating calls on city agencies and the Council to move forward with reforms that would “repeal criminal liability” and “create more legal locations” for vending. They also seek a pathway to obtain many licenses and permits that are currently difficult to obtain because of citywide caps and closed waiting lists.

Street sellers met with Ung last August to discuss concerns around street vending and to work with the Council member toward a solution, said Rui Li, an organizer with the nonprofit Street Vendor Project. But Helen He, who started vending after losing her job at a clinic during the pandemic, said the vendors had not heard from Ung since.

Ung’s communications director, Shane Miller, told THE CITY that “the Councilmember agreed to listen to their concerns, but told them the first step was ensuring that the streets were safe and walkable before any discussions about changing the vending regulations as they already exist.” 

But, he said, while “the vendors who were in the meeting agreed this was important…since then the situation hasn’t improved, and has actually gotten worse.”

At the protest, however, vendors stressed their willingness to work with Ung on a solution that takes into account concerns from the neighborhood.

“I hope that city agencies, members of the Street Vendor Project and key stakeholders are able to come up with an ideal reform solution,” one vendor, who goes by the name “Spring,”  said at the protest. 

“Have you even thought of how tough things are for these people? Council members should work for everyone, and should not only take into account things that concern themselves.”

The Council member, who is up for re-election this year, did not make an appearance at Wednesday’s protest. Miller said her office wasn’t notified of the rally until 7:30 Tuesday evening, and that the Council member had to be at City Hall Wednesday morning for budget hearings.

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