January 25, 2010 7:35am | By Nicole Breskin, DNAinfo Reporter/Producer
By Nicole Breskin
MANHATTAN — Police raids have forced sales of counterfeit handbags and other fake goods out of Chinatown and into neighboring SoHo and NoLIta, where vendors are now luring customers into vans and trucks to view the merchandise.
Angry residents claim SoHo and NoLiTa’s streets have become illegal stomping grounds ever since raids on 31 stalls on Canal Street saw shop owners slapped with fines of $100,000 each.
“I see them all the time selling in my neighborhood,” said Mercer Street resident David Bober. “I worked my whole life for a decent quality of life. Why should I have to contend with this?”
Bober complains vendors are constantly selling off his sidewalk, taking up rare free parking spaces on Grand Street with vans where customers can view merchandise, and intimidating locals to the point that they are moving out of the neighborhood.
Police have made their presence known on Canal Street after they raided stalls last month. (Nicole Breskin/DNAinfo)
“They’re becoming aggressive and there are yelling matches all the time,” he said. “I can’t fight the battle on Canal Street, but I draw the line here in SoHo.
“It’s become a turf war.”
Claudia Ospina, who has two young girls, claims she put her two-bedroom home on Wooster Street on the market recently because of dodgy activities on her block.
“It’s not a good environment for our children when vendors are sneaking people into vans, or running from the cops,” she said. “But they push further and further into SoHo.”
A group of concerned residents have recently banded together to form an activist group called SoHo Neighbors, which has documented illegal activity in photos and videos, to stand up to the vendors.
The group has even discussed hiring security guards for the block to protect the neighborhood. The plan was vetoed in the hope that city agencies might still do something to stop the sellers.
Inside a truck reportedly filled with illegal purses after a police raid. (Photo: Courtesy of David Bober)
“When the raids happened, it spread the activity all over the neighborhood and it’s no longer isolated,” said Robert Millis, one of the organizers of the community group.
“It’s not only illegal vending. We’ve seen more litter and graffiti increase and all sorts of activity. We need the mayor’s office. It will really require a coordinated effort to stop,” he said.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office has acknowledged the problem.
“Street vendors in SoHo are a continuing problem that we are aware of and will continue to work with the community to address them,” spokesman Jason Post told DNAinfo.
By Nicole Breskin, DNAinfo.com