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Illegal vendors and gamblers have taken over a commercial strip in The Bronx thanks to a new city law that moved enforcement responsibilities from the NYPD to an agency that lacks the authority to confiscate goods — or even demand identification from street hawkers.
“It looks like a bazaar in Istanbul,” said Marko Majic, head of business development for City Jeans on East Fordham Road.
“The only difference is in Istanbul it’s legal and organized and here it is illegal and unorganized,” Majic said.
Wilma Alonso, director of the Fordham Road Business Improvement District, recently counted 242 sidewalk vendors along the shopping corridor from Grand Concourse to Webster Avenue.
That same area has just 230 storefronts.
“They sell water, jewelry, masks, toys, counterfeit goods, anything you can imagine,” Alonso said, adding that hustlers even set up games of three-card monte.
Alonso called the situation a “public safety crisis,” citing a June 5 shooting on E. 188th Street near Grand Concourse that stemmed from a dispute with a vendor. Another vendor, who was not involved in the argument, was shot in the arm by a stray bullet, according to police.
Beefs between people hawking CDs in Times Square resulted in the shooting of a 4-year-old girl in May and a U.S. Marine in June.
The March 2021 law moved enforcement away from cops and handed it over to the city Department of Consumer Affairs and Worker Protection.
A spokeswoman for the agency confirmed to The Post that the law doesn’t even call for it to be fully operational until September.
“The truth is, the City Council was very short-sighted thinking about the ramifications and the damage they would be doing to the business community,” Alonso said about the new law.
Her members haven’t been able to participate in pandemic-era programs like outdoor dining or open storefronts because of the sidewalks being overrun by illegal vendors.
Between January and July, 311 complaints about illegal vending across the city jumped by 14 percent compared to the same period in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic.
The agency has done “educational walks” in high-complaint areas like Fordham Road and Times Square, but just started doing inspections on June 1. Since then, it has conducted 13 inspections and issued just eight violations along Fordham Road including several to John and Jane Does after vendors refused to provide ID.
“We were stunned to learn on a day when there were hundreds of unauthorized vendors, only [a few] summonses were issued,” Alonso said.
When a Post reporter visited the area last week, none of the vendors had licenses displayed. Their fold-up tables held everything from face masks to iPhone chargers and Gucci knockoffs. In one section, a group of men were shouting over a heated game of three-card monte.
The vendors refused to answer the reporter’s questions, and some even followed him as he tried to approach shoppers.
“Because of them we almost have no business,” said Mahmood Tariq, owner of Phones & Games Center on the corner of East Fordham Road and Webster Avenue.
“These vendors, they have nothing to pay and they’re making much more money than us because everything goes to pocket. We have to pay taxes, we have to pay licenses, rent, other fees,” Tariq said.
The NYPD started partnering with DCWP to crack down on illegal vendors in Times Square after turf wars between CD sellers led to the shootings of innocent victims visiting the tourist destination.
While the area hasn’t seen similar violence, Fordham Road business owners hope the NYPD will step in to restore order.
“Our customers want to come and shop in peace. They don’t want to fight to get in the store because outside someone occupies 50 percent of the space,” said Majic, whose family-owned company employees 150 people at nine stores across The Bronx.
“The only time we had enforcement on Fordham Road was the riots. You can’t even call the police they don’t pick up,” Majic said.
“The inspectors can’t force them to give proper identification. So who are you writing the ticket to? John Doe? That’s pretty much a joke,” Majic said.
Margaret Chin, the Democratic Manhattan councilwoman who sponsored the bill that put DCWP in charge of enforcement, was unapologetic about the new law’s unintended consequences — and even suggested the unlicensed, unregulated and unaccountable vendors should just be left alone.
“[Business improvement districts] and chambers of commerce, they should also try to see these are small businesses, too. They’re micro-businesses. They should really work with them and help them,” Chin said of the illegal vendors.
“If there are illegal activities going on we should, you know, kind of get rid of those so the legitimate people who are trying to survive can make a living,” Chin said.
She noted that she fought for $3 million in funding for DCWP’s new enforcement wing, which has already issued 199 violations citywide ahead of its official September opening. City administration law hearings for the summonses started just last week.
Chin encouraged people to call the NYPD if they see counterfeit goods being sold.
Asked if cops would start to crackdown on Fordham Road vendors, a DCWP spokeswoman cited the partnership with police in Times Square and said the agency “will continue to work with them as needed.”
Additional reporting by Nolan Hicks, Len La Rocca, Tina Moore and Craig McCarthy
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