From the NY Times:
They came to New York from places a half-world apart: Jorge Calle is from Ecuador and Seung Yoon Park, known as Justin, is from Korea. But they followed similar paths in this city of immigrants, marrying, working, saving money and eventually buying flower shops 15 blocks apart in Queens.
And business was good even as the economy soured. But about a year ago things started going downhill: supermarkets and delis all around them began, one after another, selling flowers from sidewalk stands for as little as a quarter of the prices that the two florists charged.
“There’s so much competition, they’re killing flower shops and they’re killing each other,” said Mr. Park, 52, who bought Woodside Florist on Roosevelt Avenue, under the No. 7 train’s stop at 61st Street, in 2003. The store has been around since 1923.
For months, all the two florists did was lament their plight, a situation repeated throughout the city. But with Mr. Park struggling to pay rent, Mr. Calle drawing from his savings to pay his workers and their once brisk Valentine’s Day sales dragging, they decided to fight back.
They hired a lawyer recommended by a wholesale flower merchant. They spoke out at community board meetings. They wrote to their councilman, Jimmy Van Bramer, and filed complaints with the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs, homing in on supermarket owners who they claimed were renting sidewalk space to third-party vendors, which is illegal.
It is a sort of little guy vs. big guy battle that they have waged in obscurity, using little more than pencil, paper and patience. Mr. Calle, who owns Flowers by Giorgie on Greenpoint Avenue near 46th Street, in Sunnyside, and Mr. Park said they never had much hope they could come out winners. But as it turns out, they might indeed enjoy a measure of victory in the end.
City officials are investigating their complaints. The city allows grocers to sell produce, flowers, candy, soft drinks, ice cream and cigarettes from sidewalk stands outside their stores, but they must first obtain what are known as stoop-line-stand licenses, and they are the only ones allowed to operate the stands. The stands must provide receipts that list the business’s name, address and license number, which Mr. Calle and Mr. Park say the stands near their flower shops do not do.
Shin Jong-Un, who said he was the owner of a sidewalk flower stand near Mr. Calle’s shop, said that he rents the space from the adjacent Key Food supermarket.
Asked if he knew that renting the sidewalk space was probably illegal, he replied, “My English not so good” and would not answer any more questions. The supermarket’s owner could not be reached for comment.