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Vendors concerned over just how much longer they'll be allowed to operate in Corona Plaza

Corona Plaza vendors taking action to save neighborhood staple
Corona Plaza vendors taking action to save neighborhood staple 02:26

NEW YORK -- Camilo Vivar is known for his nieve, a frozen dessert from his native Mexico. A single dad who works construction, he says he took a second job as a street vendor out of necessity. It has become a passion.

He is one of up to 90 vendors popping up beneath the 7 train at Corona Plaza to sell food or goods from Latin America.

Carina Kaufman-Gutierrez is deputy director of the Street Vendor Project, a non-profit organization supporting the vendors.

"You can try the freshest quesadillas you've ever had in your entire life, hand-pressed right here in the plaza," she said.

She says it's special here because the vendors live in the community they serve.

"It's the heart of Corona. It's the soul of Corona in Queens," she said.

But this vibrant square faces an uncertain future. Many vendors here lack the permits required to sell. Though the city announced plans to issue more than 400 new food vendor permits annually, advocates say it's not enough.

"It's a little bit more accessible, but still, you can't even get on the waitlist at this point, so it's very, very difficult, next to impossible, to become a new street vendor in New York," Kaufman-Gutierrez said.

The vendors are taking action, forming La Asociación de Vendedores Ambulantes de Corona Plaza (The Corona Plaza Street Vendors Association) to prevent being pushed out.

Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz says lawmakers have shown interest in lifting the cap on vendor licenses, but the process has stalled.

"We've seen several proposals at the local and at the state level," she said. "Unfortunately, we haven't seen this move."

Agencies including the DOT have offered some support, installing bins to help keep things clean, but vendors want a stronger commitment from the city.

"We're all here working hard. We pay taxes," Vivar said in Spanish.

Some nearby brick-and-mortar businesses see the plaza as competition. But others argue it's an economic engine lifting up the whole neighborhood.

"Everyone here has something to contribute. Everyone has an idea or an experience or a knowledge, and the community becomes stronger when we're sharing that amongst each other," Kaufman-Gutierrez said.

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