Red Hook Vendors Meet Parks Commissioner Tomorrow, Scout Permanent Space
Will the beloved Red Hook vendors be subjected to a competitive bidding process that could result in the loss of yet another Brooklyn institution? Cesar Fuentes, the head of the vendor's group will be meeting on Tuesday with Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe (who has so far been silent on an issue that has been prominent in the media and on which even U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer has weighted in), Brooklyn Borough Commissioner Julius Spiegel, City Council Member Sara Gonzalez and others. Food blogger Porkchop Express, who has reviewed all of the Red Hook food stands in detail, has also apparently been invited in order to offer his perspective on the vendors and their importance to the community.
Mr. Fuentes, ironically, became head of the vendors' group after an attempt during the Giuliani Administration to evict them. At the time, he was 21 years old and working as an assistant cook at a stand run by his mother and his step-father. He said that Mr. Spiegel and Parks Department official in charge of the Red Hook park were "instrumental in giving us a chance provided that someone would represent the vendors."
He says that the Red Hook vendors are gratified by all the support they have gotten from the community since word spread last week of the possible loss of their permits. "I think we're going to have this resolved on Tuesday," he says. "I'm confident we're going to win the battle, but maybe not the war." Mr. Fuentes believes that there are threats to the vendors long-term existence in the Red Hook park as the neighborhood changes, particularly with the opening of the Ikea next year.
The vendors are scouting Red Hook for possible rental space, in part so they can stay open year round. "It needs to have some green space and grass and a mercado feeling," Mr. Fuentes says.
GL can think of any number of parks in Brooklyn where the Parks Department could encourage the opening of similar ethnic food markets. Sunset Park and McCarren Park both come to mind immediately. Prospect Park would be another place where ethnic food stands could thrive. In Queens, Flushing Meadow Park would be a natural location.
In fact, the more we think about it, a Let a Thousand Food Vendors Bloom policy that encouraged mom & pop ethnic food stands like the ones that have become a community asset in Red Hook, would be the ideal antidote the sterility of New York City street fairs and the fact that it's hard to get more than a pretzel, a hot dog, ice cream and soft drinks in most New York City parks.