Vendors selling knockoff Gucci bags are overrunning Chinatown

EXCLUSIVE: Illegal street vendors selling Gucci and Louis Vuitton knockoffs are overrunning NYC’s Chinatown without fear of consequences after cops were stripped of right to crack down

  • Countless unlicensed street vendors have taken over blocks of Manhattan’s Chinatown selling knock off designers bags, hats, belts and other accessories  
  • According to locals, the surge started in March when the city’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) took over street vendor enforcement from the police
  • In the past, police would arrest and fine street vendors, and confiscate their merchandize, but the new inspectors have the authority to issue tickets, not make arrests 
  • The change was the culmination of calls to limit police oversight after a viral video in 2019 showed officers aggressively handcuffing a subway churro vendor in Brooklyn.  
  • ‘Our officers must be able to focus on the real drivers of crime,’ Mayor Bill de Blasio said when he explained the initiative in December 2020  
  • But locals tell DailyMail.com, ‘It’s definitely getting worse. They used to occupy just a two-block radius. Now they’re taking up three blocks and two avenues’

Unlicensed vendors selling knockoff Gucci and Louis Vuitton bags have brazenly taken over several streets in Manhattan’s Chinatown – no longer afraid of getting busted after the NYPD was recently stripped of its authority to crackdown on their illegal activity.

Locals who’ve worked in the area for years say they’ve never seen such a large assembly of unlicensed vendors where a knockoff of an oversized black and white Christian Dior tote sells on the street for $80, just a pittance compared to the retail price of$3,820.

A three-block stretch of Broadway, straddling Canal Street, has been transformed into a no-rent street bazaar, with street peddlers laying out their wares in full public view, while parking their vehicles loaded with backup supplies just around the corner.

‘Hello, come here, take this one! Gucci, Gucci!’ one of the vendors insisted as he placed a fake leather purse into the arms of a tourist who happened by.

The tourist, visiting New York from Egypt, forced the bag back into the hands of the seller, then walked away.

‘How are they doing this so publicly?’ the young man told DailyMail.com, stupefied. ‘I came here a couple years ago to buy gifts, and it was nothing like this. They were so discreet.’

Countless unlicensed street vendors have taken over blocks of Manhattan’s Chinatown selling knock off designers bags, hats, belts and other accessories

A map of Manhattan’s Chinatown showing a stretch of blocks where illegal goods are being sold on the street 

Locals who’ve worked in the area for years say they’ve never seen such a large assembly of unlicensed vendors where a knockoff of an oversized black and white Christian Dior tote sells on the street for $80, just a small portion of the retail $3,820

The vendors set up carpets along the west side of Broadway and laid out the bags, hats, belts and sneakers sporting labels such as Prada and Channel, taking up half of the sidewalk

A three-block stretch of Broadway, straddling Canal Street, has been transformed into a no-rent street bazaar, with street peddlers laying out their wares in full public view

On Monday, business was slow in the early afternoon, as the group set up their displays on Broadway. When DailyMail.com approached, they grew testy, then outright hostile

In the past, police would arrest and fine street vendors, and confiscate their merchandize. The new inspectors have the authority to issue tickets, but not make arrests

According to locals, the shift started in March when the city’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) – formerly the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) – took over street vendor enforcement from cops. It was the culmination of calls to limit police oversight after a viral video in 2019 showed officers aggressively handcuffing a subway churro vendor in Brooklyn.

The vendors are no longer required to show their ID under the new agency.  

‘Our officers must be able to focus on the real drivers of crime,’ Mayor Bill de Blasio said when he explained the initiative in December 2020. ‘Having Department of Consumer and Worker Protection coordinating the City’s vending policy and enforcement efforts strikes the right balance as we rethink how law enforcement resources are used in our city. DCWP has a strong record of protecting New Yorkers, and I’m confident they’re up to the task.’

How the multi-billion dollar counterfeit goods industry relies on child and slave labor 

Tourists who shell out a few bucks for knockoff designer bags and accessories are fueling what amounts to a multi-billion dollar industry in counterfeit goods that often relies on child and slave labor and has strong ties to transnational organized crime, according to the United Nations.

‘It has been documented that migrants who have been smuggled into a country are coerced into selling counterfeit goods while irregular labour, including children, can be used in the production of counterfeit items,’ the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime reports. 

‘Europol has observed the link between migrants who have been smuggled across borders and organized criminal groups: ‘The majority of counterfeit products are distributed by means of unlicensed markets and street sales. Many of these markets are controlled by organized crime groups. Illegal immigrants, often from Africa or Asia.’

China is reportedly the greatest producer. More than 75 percent of counterfeit goods seized between 2004 and 2009 were manufactured there, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data.

‘Given the illegal nature of counterfeiting, labour conditions could be far worse than those seen in legitimate companies where, despite regulations, mistreatment can happen,’ the UN reports. 

‘Severe labour abuses in the supply chains of even some of the world’s major brands have been well documented, with instances such as threats of violence, exposure to hazardous materials, and deadly working conditions all having been noted. If this can happen in global companies whose supply-chain practices are at least open to some degree of scrutiny, then the situation would be much worse for workers in a clandestine setting.’

‘Mayor de Blasio has handed off law enforcement duties to an agency that’s unable to enforce the law,’ a police sergeant told DailyMail.com. ‘He’s just asking for trouble, sending a very clear message to criminals that they can run around the city untouched and do whatever they want.’ 

By giving these peddlers a pass,  say critics, De Blasio is also fueling a mulit-billion dollar industry that relies on child and slave labor to produce the counterfeit goods.

The city’s new Office of Street Vendor Enforcement spent its first three months ‘educating the vending community about their responsibilities,’ a spokeswoman told DailyMail.com. Enforcement started in June, but the office did not immediately provide statistics for how many tickets they’ve issued so far. The spokeswoman stated that ‘we continue to explore what enforcement models will be most effective and equitable,’ and that the agency is still hiring inspectors. It expects to be fully staffed by September, she noted. 

In the past, police would arrest and fine street vendors, and confiscate their merchandize. The new inspectors have the authority to issue tickets, but not make arrests.

‘The police, they’d come at any time and arrest us, say we’re selling bags without a license,’ said Kalilou, a 49-year-old vendor from the Central African Republic laying out Gucci bags and wallets on the sidewalk Monday.

But on this day, the vendors had less to fear. Police in patrol cars driving through the area didn’t bother stopping, and the city’s new civilian inspectors were nowhere to be seen.

Vendors have exploited the void in enforcement.

When DailyMail.com visited Monday, the vendors began to arrive in the early afternoon, some driving there and parking on nearby Howard Street. Men stepped out, opened the trunks and grabbed large black garbage bags filled with merchandize. They set up carpets along the west side of Broadway and laid out the bags, hats, belts and sneakers sporting labels such as Prada and Channel. They took up half of the sidewalk.

‘I’ve had to tell them five times this summer to stop blocking my door,’ Gary, 30, manager of the Sacred Tattoo Shop across the street, told DailyMail.com. ‘It’s the craziest it’s ever been. And, not surprisingly, I don’t see anyone from Consumer Affairs here.’

Oriana Fernandez, who works at the neighboring PIQ novelty gift shop, agreed the mass gathering represents a big and growing problem.

‘It’s definitely getting worse,’ Fernandez told DailyMail.com. ‘They used to occupy just a two-block radius. Now they’re taking up three blocks and two avenues.

‘I don’t see the DCA inspectors,’ she observed. ‘What we really need here is the police, someone to actually take care of the issue. When the cops came, the vendors would pack up and move along, or they’d get arrested, and their products would get thrown into police vans.’

The vendors parked their vehicles loaded with backup supplies just around the corner as they posted up on the sidewalk 

‘I’ve had to tell them five times this summer to stop blocking my door,’ Gary, 30, manager of the Sacred Tattoo Shop across the street, told DailyMail.com. ‘It’s the craziest it’s ever been. And, not surprisingly, I don’t see anyone from Consumer Affairs here’

Gary, the manager of the tattoo shop on Broadway, said he’s less concerned with what they’re selling than the fact they’re creating a disturbance outside his store. ‘The police are already in the area,’ he said. ‘They should be handling this. I don’t know why they’re loosening this up now’

On the opposite side of Broadway, two Asian women held placards with pictures of bags they were selling, while others roamed Canal

A cop who used to bust unlicensed vendors in Manhattan told DailyMail.com that such police action is necessary not just to thwart illegal vendors, but also to curb violence

 ‘We can’t compel anyone to provide ID to us,’ the DCWP spokeswoman noted. ‘In Times Square, if we were not getting an ID, we could call the NYPD to compel someone to present ID’

‘These people can be very aggressive and dangerous because they’re very territorial,’ an officer said. ‘It’s dangerous because they try to corner the market, and that’s how the latest shootings in Times Square happened – because of illegal vendors fighting’

A cop who used to bust unlicensed vendors in Manhattan told DailyMail.com that such police action is necessary not just to thwart illegal vendors, but also to curb violence.

‘These people can be very aggressive and dangerous because they’re very territorial,’ the officer said. ‘It’s dangerous because they try to corner the market, and that’s how the latest shootings in Times Square happened – because of illegal vendors fighting.’

Four tourists were recently caught in the crossfire of two shootings in the heart of Times Square – and police blamed both incidents on sidewalk CD peddlers who were fighting with each other and packing guns.

The city responded last month by ordering a crackdown on unlicensed vendors in Times Square, having cops serve as backup to the city inspectors. One thing the civilians needed help with was getting the street hawkers to present their licenses or other identification.

‘We can’t compel anyone to provide ID to us,’ the DCWP spokeswoman noted. ‘In Times Square, if we were not getting an ID, we could call the NYPD to compel someone to present ID.’

‘We’re learning a lot as we transition to lead enforcement agency,’ she added.

On Monday, business was slow in the early afternoon, as the group set up their displays on Broadway. When DailyMail.com approached, they grew testy, then outright hostile.

‘Don’t talk to him, he’s a police officer!’ one of the vendors shouted at a tourist who was talking to the reporter.

‘There’s nothing to see here, we’re just selling our fu**ing bags,’ another yelled.

When a photographer took their picture, a vendor threatened violence.

‘If you ever do that again, you’re going to get hurt!’ he shouted, getting into the photographer’s face.

The unlicensed vendors who gather on Broadway are mostly from African countries such as Senegal, Guinea, Mali and Nigeria, explaining that they came to New York to work because good-paying jobs in their homelands are extremely limited.

‘This is our living,’ said Ras, 40, from Ethiopia, who says he earns as much $300 a day selling phony purses and wallets.

He was more honest than some of his counterparts, acknowledging, at least to DailyMail.com, that his bags are fakes.

‘Most tourists like the Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Christian Dior, Rolex, but they don’t have $10,000 to spend,’ said Ras, who sells his items for as little as $25. ‘They know they’re fakes.

‘Most of these things are junk stuff from China, but I have good quality ones that run $200 to $400,’ he added, offering up higher quality merchandise stashed elsewhere. ‘I have to make a call. I have someone. It’s private. You don’t want to know.’

On the opposite side of Broadway, nearer to the heart of Chinatown, two Asian women held placards with pictures of bags they were selling, while others roamed Canal.

Most tourists who visit the area to shop for bargain handbags and accessories recognize they’re fakes, particularly ones that misspell the product. However, some get duped by vendors who are happy to assure them that they’re buying the real thing.

Another police officer called the city’s decision to sideline cops and put civilians in charge of enforcement a ‘big waste of taxpayer dollars’

Most tourists who visit the area to shop for bargain handbags and accessories recognize they’re fakes, particularly ones that misspell the product. However, some get duped by vendors who are happy to assure them that they’re buying the real thing

‘Hello, come here, take this one! Gucci, Gucci!’ one of the vendors insisted as he placed a fake leather pursue into the arms of a tourist who happened by 

A woman named Chynna, who used to work at a nearby Louis Vuitton and now works at Gucci, said people would routinely shell out hundreds for the knockoffs, then walk over to her old store to show her the product

A woman named Chynna, who used to work at a nearby Louis Vuitton, said people would routinely shell out hundreds for the knockoffs, then walk over to her old store to show her the product.

‘We’d get lots of tourists who’d buy a ‘Louis Vuitton’ bag in Chinatown then stop by asking if it’s authentic,’ said Chynna, who now works at Gucci. ‘It’s crazy because these are really, really bad knockoffs. From a human perspective, I feel bad telling them.’

Rebecca, a 20-year-old tourist from Washington, D.C. visiting Chinatown with her sister and boyfriend, stepped around the street peddlers.

‘I would be really embarrassed to walk away with one of those bags, like I’m trying too hard to look like something I’m not,’ Rebecca, who was wearing an Iron Maiden t-shirt, told DailyMail.com. ‘The sellers don’t even try to make them look real. They just want you to buy it.’

Gary, the manager of the tattoo shop on Broadway, said he’s less concerned with what they’re selling than the fact they’re creating a disturbance outside his store.

‘The police are already in the area,’ he said. ‘They should be handling this. I don’t know why they’re loosening this up now.’

Another police officer called the city’s decision to sideline cops and put civilians in charge of enforcement a ‘big waste of taxpayer dollars.’

‘If they do wind up doing enforcement, they’re going to get their asses whooped by these guys and end up having to call the police anyway,’ the officer told DailyMail.com. ‘And when they do issue tickets and these people don’t answer them, then what happens? They’re going to get warrants for arrest? And who’s going to come and get them? The police. This is just ridiculous. There has to be a better system.’

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