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Permit Change for Vendors May Disrupt Tradition

For decades immigrants have been selling homemade Latin American foods — tacos, tamales and other foods — outside a popular soccer field in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, N.Y.

The tradition began in the 1970s, and the food has become very popular with non-Hispanics as the neighborhood has gentrified.

But now the vendors face the possibility of permit hikes that could force them out of business. The parks department has decided to change the way Red Hook vendors get their permits and let others compete for the right to sell in the same spot.

Fifteen years ago the area was known for high crime and gang violence, but now there are stores and million-dollar homes going up in the neighborhood.

One vendor now pays $600 a month for a permit. She sells pupusas for $1.75 each, but fears the cost of new permits will force her out of the area. She and other vendors of the Red Hook Food Vendors Association blame the changes on gentrification.

But the parks commissioner says the new permitting rules have nothing to do with gentrification. He says the city cannot keep renewing temporary permits for the vendors, which is what has been done in the past.

The vendors will continue to operate this season, and they hope they will win a long-term contract.

Marianne McCune reports from member station WNYC in New York.

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Marianne McCune
Marianne McCune is a reporter and producer for Embedded: Buffalo Extreme who has more than two decades of experience making award-winning audio stories. She has produced narrative podcast series for New York Magazine (Cover Story), helped start, produce and edit long-form narrative shows for NPR and public radio affiliates (Rough Translation; United States of Anxiety, Season Four), reported locally and internationally (NPR News, NPR's Planet Money and WNYC News) and produced groundbreaking narrative audio tours (SF MOMA, Detour). She is also the founder of Radio Rookies, a narrative youth radio series, that is still thriving at WNYC.