Call it the half-million-dollar hot dog cart. Mohammad Mastafa of Astoria, Queens, has to sell almost that much in drinks and snacks annually to break even on the pushcart he owns at Fifth Avenue and East 62nd Street near the Central Park Zoo. He pays the city’s parks department $289,500 a year just for the right to operate his single cart there.
It may seem like an exorbitant amount of money, but it isn’t shocking to many of the other food vendors like Mr. Mastafa who compete to operate pushcarts in New York City parks.
The zoo entrance drew the highest bid among the 150 pushcart sites in public parks, but the operators of four other carts in and around Central Park also pay the city more than $200,000 a year each. In fact, the 20 highest license fees, each exceeding $100,000, are all for Central Park carts.
“It’s a lot of peanuts, it’s a lot of hot dogs,” said Elizabeth W. Smith, the assistant parks commissioner for revenue and marketing.
It is a lot of visitors in need of sustenance. So while vendors are adamant about not divulging details about what they make, most pushcart sites presumably turn a profit or they would not attract such high bids.
The annual fee some vendors offer to pay the city has doubled or even tripled in the past 10 years.
A decade ago, the fee paid for the pushcart at the Central Park Zoo entrance was $120,000, less than half what Mr. Mastafa paid most recently. The second most expensive cart is on the West Drive at West 67th Street near Tavern on the Green, where the fee is $266,850.
For many other parks, especially those in parks outside Manhattan, the fees are much lower — $14,000 in Astoria Park in Queens, $3,200 in Maria Hernandez Park in Brooklyn and $1,100 in Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx. The lowest fee, $700, is paid by the owner of a pushcart near the soccer fields in Inwood Hill Park in Upper Manhattan.
Elizendo Vaquero, 50, of the Bronx, has been selling there to soccer players on Sundays since 1989 (since 1997 with a permit).
“Everybody knows us here,” he said. “This is like family.”
He said he bids higher and higher each time it comes up for bid, but still earns $3,000 to $5,000 a year from his cart. “I don’t want to lose this spot, he said. “We have to pay the employee, the permit, everything. But at least we’re happy. We see everybody.”
The parks department’s pushcart concessions, which are put out for bid every five years, produce more than $4.5 million annually for the city’s general fund.
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