Beloved Allerton street vendor shut down by city four times, highlighting issue of inconsistent enforcement

Neighbors stop by Victor Martinez’s stand as a worker bags produce for a customer on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2023.
Photo Emily Swanson

Over the past month, city Department of Sanitation (DSNY) officers have cracked down on unlicensed street vending in the Bronx’s Allerton neighborhood.

The bustling Allerton commercial strip of Allerton Avenue between White Plains Avenue and Boston Road is home to some 200 small businesses and a few chain stores alongside a handful of street vendors, who hawk everything from yams and papayas to jewelry and African hats. 

But when DSNY came after Victor Martinez’s produce stall that has been a neighborhood fixture since 2011, many residents — and even other vendors — were outraged. On Oct. 17, Martinez’s stand was shut down — and all his merchandise confiscated — for the fourth time in a month.

DSNY issued 485 violations between April 1, when it took over enforcement from city Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, and Sept. 14, according to a Sept. 27 letter to city Comptroller Brad Lander from the mayor’s office obtained via a Freedom of information Law (FOIL) request by the Bronx Times.

A jewelry vendor on Allerton Avenue, who requested anonymity for fear of enforcement backlash, told the Bronx Times the recent confiscations have been “really devastating.” 

“They don’t want us to sell, but they don’t give us licenses to sell,” he said. 

Inconsistent enforcement of street vendors in New York City has become a hot button issue in the Allerton section of the Bronx where a popular produce vendor has had his produce confiscated four times in October. Photo Emily Swanson

Martinez was far from the first vendor bust in the Bronx. In 2021, community members and elected officials slammed city workers who shut down a produce stand at Pelham Parkway and White Plains Road and threw all the food onto the back of a garbage truck.

The Allerton produce stand is a neighborhood staple of sorts, operated by Martinez, 59, who lives nearby on Eastchester Road. He sets up under the 2 train at Allerton Avenue and White Plains Road, in an area where the sidewalk widens out. He has three or four employees and is open daily from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. 

Business is good, Martinez told the Bronx Times in a phone call. Thanks to his prime location — which brings lots of foot traffic and loyal customers from his decade-plus in the neighborhood — he said he brings in roughly $1,500 per day.

Martinez does have a vending license specifically designated for veterans — but the street vendor’s produce setup is apparently larger than the requirements allow for. He reduced the number of tables in his setup but it hasn’t seem to alleviate the consequences. 

Policies around street vending in the city can be confusing due to the “patchwork of State and City laws and rules that govern it,” according to the Street Vendor Advisory Board, established in 2021 as part of Local Law 18 — which was supposed to free up more food vending licenses throughout the city.

There are at least seven different types of licenses and permits, depending on whether the vendor is selling food or other items. Several city agencies — including sanitation, health and transportation, to name a few — all have a stake in licensing and enforcement, compounding the chaos.

Vendors, residents and business owners are all caught up in the bureaucratic mess.

The city “never really handled” the issue of vendor regulation — creating a situation of “no uniformity” that Michael Brady, former executive director of the Third Avenue Business Improvement District (BID), called “the wild wild west.”

Brady, who also worked with Bronx businesses while at the Chamber of Commerce, told the Bronx Times he wants to keep energy directed at the issue. Between vendors who want to be in compliance, residents who value vendors who fill market gaps, and some nuisance vendors who may be disruptive, “All the parties are left in this kind of limbo,” he said. 

“It’s a broken system,” Brady added.

Martinez has had all his merchandise and tables confiscated by DNSY on four separate occasions, so far. But in this clash with the city, “The community really, really stands up for me,” he told the Bronx Times.  

He was not at the scene during every DSNY visit and only caught part of the most recent confiscation on Oct. 17. Martinez estimated that losing all his merchandise multiple times has cost him at least $12,000. 

“I can’t sustain the pain they’re putting on me,” he said. 


‘The Junk Man’

Setup by "The Junk Man" on Oct. 9, 2023. Photo Emily Swanson
A makeshift setup on Allerton Avenue is stationed by someone known colloquially as “the junk man.” Photo Emily Swanson

For Allerton residents, the dilemma lies in saving the vendors they love while shutting down those they consider a nuisance — those who block the sidewalk or just sell junk.

And they’ve found out the hard way that the city won’t allow them to pick and choose. 

According to DeFrancis, residents love Martinez’s fruit stand but take issue with a vendor they call “the junk man,” who goes “basically dumpster-diving” for things to resell. 

Some complained that “the junk man” was making a mess and blocking the sidewalk. Although regarded as a nice guy, many residents want him shut down. 

However, “the junk man” remains. And when DSNY shut down Martinez’s produce stall — while leaving “the junk man” — DeFranics said some residents were “visibly angry,” even cursing at enforcement officers.

Lisa Sorin, president of the Bronx Chamber of Commerce, told the Bronx Times that some of that anger may be unjustified because residents have come forward with legitimate complaints regarding street vendors.

“There’s been enough complaints across the city, not just in the Bronx … about having to keep the sidewalks clear,” she said.

Enforcement officers first visited the intersection of Allerton Avenue and White Plains Road on Sept. 8 after receiving 11 complaints to 311 about “potentially unlicensed vending” on the avenue, DSNY said in an email to the Bronx Times. That day, officers issued warnings and education.

It is not immediately clear to whom the 311 complaints were directed. The Bronx Times has submitted a FOIL request for records of the incidents.

After Sept. 8, some like the jewelry vendor said they began watching out for officers and quickly packed up when they spotted them.

The jewelry vendor said he has managed to avoid recent citations — but others haven’t been so lucky. 

When DSNY came back to the area on Sept. 20 for follow-up inspections, it “issued two violations for unlicensed general vending and one violation for vending in a prohibited area” to some vendors in the vicinity.

According to DSNY, all items were “vouchered and confiscated, with instructions for how they can be retrieved,” and items from one “abandoned food vendor station” were donated to a local food pantry. 

The letter from the mayor’s office states that according to policy, sanitation officers either “donate to local food pantries any uncooked, untouched produce, or compost any cooked or altered food.” The letter states that nearly 48,000 pounds of produce have been donated as of Sept. 14.

But DeFrancis doesn’t buy it.

“Now they put it in the back of a flatbed truck instead of a dumpster. But it goes to the same destination,” he said.

‘Neighborhood lookouts’

Victor Martinez’s produce stand near the corner of Allerton Avenue and White Plains Road is typically bustling with activity. Photo Emily Swanson

The street vendors of Allerton play an important economic and social role in the small-town feel of the neighborhood.

And some like Martinez fill another important void. According to DeFrancis, Allerton needs a “full-on farmers market” — but a city map shows that there are only a handful of farmers markets in the entire East Bronx.

Martinez has meant even more to the community though — he’s literally a life-saver. 

He hired a local man who was known to have developmental disabilities and had attempted suicide at least twice. But after Martinez gave the man a job breaking down boxes and cleaning the area, DeFrancis said he is now “smiling” and doing well. 

“These [vendors] become more than just businesses,” DeFrancis added.

Sorin, of the Chamber of Commerce, believes that residents and vendors can capitalize on those types of relationships and create a win-win situation: Communities should identify vacant storefronts and help vendors set up shop, if even on a temporary or pop-up basis.

While Sorin said “there has to be some sort of law and order” when it comes to street vending, she told The Bronx Times that “maybe now is the perfect opportunity to find tenants.”

Personal relationships and friendly, flexible service seem to be key to the vendors’ success. The jewelry vendor, for instance, said that he sometimes takes a list of items a customer is looking for and sets out to find them.

He said he tried five or six years ago to get licensed by the city, but he was told the wait was more or less impossible — as long as 20-30 years. 

According to the mayor’s letter, 10,089 people are on the waiting list for General Vendor (non-food) licenses. At age 62, however, the jewelry vendor has given up waiting.

“I want to do honest work legally,” he said. “All we need to do is feed our families.” 

Since the DSNY confiscations, DeFrancis has shown up regularly on the streets to support the neighborhood’s beloved vendors. Community Board 11, which has jurisdiction over the Allerton section, and a few elected officials have stepped in to research ways for Martinez in particular to get in compliance. 

But DeFrancis is caught in a tough spot between city enforcement of vending licenses that are seemingly impossible to get, and enterprising Bronxites desperate to make an honest living. 

“How do we make this work?” he wondered. “I’m still waiting for an answer.”

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