Essex Market vendor fights to hold on to her stall

The city has padlocked Carmen Salvador’s Three Brothers stall — with Salvador’s merchandise inside — in the Essex Street Market.   Photo by Heather Dubin
The city has padlocked Carmen Salvador’s Three Brothers stall — with Salvador’s merchandise inside — in the Essex Street Market. Photo by Heather Dubin

BY HEATHER DUBIN  |  When Carmen Salvador arrived at work last month, she found her stall at the Essex Street Market closed, with a new lock on the gate. Inside, there was a note from the New York City Economic Development Corporation, which operates the Lower East Side market space, informing her it was responsible for shuttering her stall, Three Brothers.

E.D.C. also stated it would not renew her lease, and informed Salvador she could contact a maintenance worker to retrieve her merchandise, which is currently still locked inside the stall.

Salvador has filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court charging the E.D.C. has violated her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and other anti-discrimination laws.

In a telephone interview, Carlina Rivera, director of programming and services at Good Old Lower East Side and a Democratic district leader, spoke about the case. Rivera has accompanied Salvador to Civil Court twice regarding the matter. Salvador is a native Spanish speaker, and has difficulty understanding English.

According to Rivera, Salvador has maintained Three Brothers — where she sold clothing, Avon products and other items, such as lighters, sunglasses and jewelry — for 23 years. The stall is named for Salvador’s three sons she raised on the Lower East Side.

Vendors at the market, at Delancey and Essex Sts., are expected to have their stalls open during specific time frames and days, which is mandated in their contract. Planned absences also require advance notice to the E.D.C.

“The language does say in the contract that they can terminate at will,” Rivera said of E.D.C. “And if the vendor doesn’t adhere to guidelines, then they will issue a violation.”

Salvador received a letter from the agency on Aug. 19, stating her one-year lease would terminate Sept. 30, and that she was not eligible for a renewal.

“Typically she’d sign every year or every two years, and there wasn’t an issue,” Rivera said. “Twenty-three years she’d been there.

“E.D.C. never issued her any violations. They mentioned a lot of their warnings were verbal. The security guard translated at least once to her, but he’s not an interpreter. They had talked to her about her attendance.”

Over the past few years, Salvador has experienced some medical issues that have prevented her from maintaining perfect attendance. Rivera asserted that Salvador had previously produced a doctor’s note, and had been in compliance with the contract for most of her 23-year tenure. Salvador also had surgery outside of the country, and had submitted documentation before she left.

Rivera noted that an E.D.C. attorney claimed Salvador was shut down due to her attendance.

The city has been increasing food vending at the market, but Salvador has a non-food stall.

“One comment made by their counsel was that they’re leaning toward a pure food market,” Rivera said of E.D.C.

Rivera is concerned that when the Essex Street Market is relocated to its new site close by as part of the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area project, current vendors under contract will not be protected or receive comparable rents.

“They did say they were going to honor everyone’s original contract, even if you weren’t a food market owner,” Rivera noted. “We want to make sure what was originally agreed upon is followed strictly.”

Salvador’s case has been adjourned a few times. The judge recommended Salvador be placed on a probation period, and if she failed to have perfect attendance for 100 days, the judge would order her to vacate the space. However, E.D.C. has refused to negotiate, and maintains Salvador’s contract is terminated.

Salvador now has legal representation, and the case was adjourned on Nov. 14 to allow for review. The next court date will likely be in January.

“Carmen Salvador has no income, and she wants to work,” said Rivera, who is also a member of Community Board 3. “She might apply for benefits to pay rent; she can’t rely on her family. This could turn out to be a very long case.”

When asked for comment, a city Law Department spokesperson e-mailed a statement saying the department could not respond because the matter is in court.

“However,” the statement added, “we strongly dispute Ms. Salvador’s version of events and allegations that E.D.C. violated the law.”

In a separate e-mail exchange, city officials also stated that Salvador’s stall has not been leased to another storeowner.  However, her permit has expired, and the stall is no longer under her control. Additionally, city officials assert that Salvador can access her stall to retrieve her items.

According to Rivera, Salvador entered her stall last week to retrieve necessary documents and medication.  She was in her former stall for about ten minutes, but felt pressured to leave while an E.D.C. representative and security guard waited for her to finish.