Volume 74, Number 43 | March 02 - 08, 2005

Eyeglasses store stoops to allowing vegetable stand

By Amanda Kludt

A vendor operating a stoop-line produce stand outside of an eyeglasses store on the corner of Grand and Mott Sts. is breaking several consumer codes, according to a local resident, who recently brought the matter to the attention of The Villager. While it has been reported that merchants break sidewalk vending rules often in Chinatown, this operation, according to the resident, was the “most glaring violation.”

Stoop-line stands are stands adjacent to storefronts where goods and merchandise are displayed. The stands are supposed to be extensions of the main stores and therefore must sell similar goods and be run by the same person and they must not accept money outside of the store. Since the stand on 203 Grand St. sells fruits and vegetables outside of Manhattan Grand Optical, an eyeglasses store, and accepts money outside, it violates these rules. “It sticks out like a sore thumb. Eyeglasses, fruits and vegetables are totally different,” said the frustrated resident.

The resident spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution from the landlords in the area. She said others wouldn’t come forward because the vendors had threatened them after complaining in the past. “I’ve been glared at on the street. I was followed once,” she said.

According to workers at Manhattan Grand Optical, they do not own or operate the stand and do not accept money for any goods sold at the stand. The landlord of the building, Alfred Lepore, signed a consent form to let a vendor, Lee Kwok Lum, operate the stand even though the vendor is not associated with the optical store. Lepore could not respond because he is on vacation, but a family member, Gabriella Lepore, said they weren’t aware that any laws were broken.

After Lee got the consent form, the Department of Consumer Affairs issued him a license. Since he has a license, the Fifth Police Precinct says they can’t do anything about it. The police can fine illegal peddlers and stands extending too far out into the street, but not licensed operations.

While leasing out the sidewalk may be commonplace in Chinatown, the practice leads to multiple violations of vending rules. A memorandum from the New York Police Department’s Legal Bureau states, “only the merchant who operates the premises can maintain the stoop-line area for the display of merchandise.” Therefore, having a different owner of the stoop-line stand, officially named 228 Vegetable and Fruit, outside Manhattan Grand Optical violates New York law.

Another violation involves where the vendor accepts money. According to Consumer Affairs’s Notice of Adoption, vendors “shall only accept payment inside of such stores for merchandise sold or displayed at such stoop-line stands.” Since the stand and the store are unrelated, the stand accepts money outside. D.C.A. enacted this rule in 1996 because they deemed the sidewalks of Chinatown too congested.

Since the landlord signed the consent form and D.C.A. approved the license, the vendor can technically operate. After talking to The Villager, D.C.A. spokesperson Dina Improta said they would send an enforcement team to the site to see if there were any violations. Noting that the optical store is licensed for a stoop-line stand but the stand is operating around the corner, led the team to suspect that the store and stand are not run by the same people and that a false application may have been filed with D.C.A., Improta said.

“We are investigating as to whether or not the licensees have filed a false application with us,” Improta subsequently reported. D.C.A. also issued two notices of violation. One notice was for accepting money on the sidewalk for goods and the other was for selling goods at that stoop-line stand that are not sold in the store.

Improta further said if they find out a false application was filed, it’s grounds for revocation of the license.

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