The $65 million redesign of the plazas in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art has stanched the rising tide of food carts that typically congregate at the foot of the institution’s sweeping entrance, the New York Times reported. Barricades installed last Monday have reduced the number of trucks permitted on the site to eight, from up to 20 in the period preceding the renovations. The arrangement is set to remain in place until September 9, when the plaza is scheduled to reopen.
With the highly coveted vending spots greatly diminished, vendors have been manning the carts around the clock, sleeping in the structures to avoid penalties for unattended carts. Still, the Times report includes an account of a recent 5am raid that saw all present have their health permits pried off by inspectors (the carts were promptly replaced by properly licensed backups brought in by the attendants’ associates).
Given the visitor volume to the museum (6 million last year) and the relative paucity of food options nearby, the location is a prime spot for the city’s food carts. Though some of the spots are leased from the city for mid-six-figures annually, other carts take advantage of a 19th-century law allowing military veterans to sell without a permit. In some cases the carts are owned and operated by veterans, but “most of the other veterans are paid by cart owners — often as much as $200 a day — to simply be present while the cart is operating to provide legal vending status,” the Times writes.
Before the construction barriers went up last week, the glut of food carts had alarmed neighbors and the museum itself — a Met spokesman described the vendors’ “unprecedented numbers” to the Times.
“It’s not unusual to see the vendors handling flammable materials, including open containers of gasoline for their generators — not to mention the waste that is pouring out of their stands … The people who live in our neighborhood are very concerned,” Carol Kalikow, a president of the co-op board at an apartment building across the street, said.
The unfortunate state of affairs was not lost on one disabled veteran. “This is the closest a working-class guy like me will ever get to living on Fifth Avenue,” he told the Times.