Brooklyn Heights store owners are angry, a Christmas tree street vendor in a busy part of the neighborhood is ruining their holiday spirit. A handful of small businesses said that the stand selling Christmas trees is not only squatting, but is also breaking all kinds of city rules — and one business owner said that paperwork filed with the city would actually make him responsible if anything were to go wrong at the stand.
“Civil disobedience in the City of New York is a problem. Nobody respects the law,” said store owner Ivan Arguello. He is irate about the seasonal vendor because listed on the permit for the trees (licensed to a company called Evergreen East) is Keyfood Montague — the name and address of Arguello’s store. In other words, someone stole his identity in order to obtain a permit illegally.
“I want my name out of here. God forbid something happened, I’m liable,” Arguello said.
He’s not the only one upset. Estela Johnson owns a flower shop down the block. She said that the Evergreen folks are not-so-coincidentally selling the same items she does — and are doing it without proper permission. “Because of them, I’ve had the slowest season that I’ve ever had,” Johnson said.
The group selling the trees declined to speak with NBC New York. When some local authorities were asked about who actually regulates Christmas tree sales and vendors, some interesting answers were given.
Incredibly, it seems that nothing can be done about this situation. NYC’s Department of Transportation oversees sidewalks (where the business is set up), but said they don’t keep a list or regulate Christmas tree sales. Neither does the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs.
The DOT said that a tree stand in the month of December is fine as long as the business does not block the sidewalk (the stand isn’t blocking anything) and has the permission of the landlord (which the stand does not have). A spokesperson for Midwood Investment and Development said that they “were not contacted by this vendor but are aware of the situation. The local precinct has informed us they are working on addressing the issue.”
The city pointed to the state’s Department of Taxation, for which a spokesperson said, “From our perspective, they’ve got the right documentation” — even though the address was wrong.
“They are using somebody else’s address. Don’t have permission from the property owner. And they’re competing with other businesses,” said Kate Chura of the Montague Street Business Improvement District. She said everyone would have a happier holiday if government agencies modernized the rules.
Instead, each department seems to pass the buck and the store owners suffer the consequences. “Old policies that need to be updated. It’s really that simple,” Chura said