Garage Might Be Demolished Next to Merchant’s House? Nobody Told Me, Says Garagekeeper

cart ali tousirSasha Von Oldershausen Ali Tousir at his hot dog cart.

Just about everyone in the neighborhood knew about the plan to build a nine-story building next to the Merchant’s House Museum – that is, everybody but the guy whose business was in jeopardy because of it.

Nadir Ayub runs his storage business, Al-Amin Food Inc., out of the one-story garage located on 27 East Fourth Street. The lot, which currently houses 26 carts belonging to local food vendors, is also the site of a contentious development plan that has provoked the ire of many East Village residents.

And yet when The Local approached Mr. Ayub a day after the proposal was reviewed at a Landmarks Preservation Commission meeting last week, he seemed surprised to hear of it. He said he had signed a five-year lease with the garage’s owner in May, around the time he took over the storage business. That same month, unbeknownst to Mr. Ayub, representatives of the Merchant’s House, along with City Councilwoman Rosie Mendez, were complaining to Community Board 2 about a plan to demolish his workplace. 

food cartSasha Von Oldershausen

Mr. Ayub said his only clue appeared a couple weeks after he signed the lease, when engineers showed up to collect soil samples from the garage.

“They drilled very deep into the ground,” he said, tapping his foot on the spot where they had worked.

According to Mr. Ayub, he asked the owner why they were taking the samples. “He told me, ‘Don’t worry, maybe in ten years I’ll build something here,'” Mr. Ayub said.

food cart 2Sasha Von Oldershausen

The garage, which has been home to food carts for over eight years, is unassuming. Its concrete façade is littered with graffiti, its entrance protected by a shabby plastic curtain. But Mr. Ayub is proud of his new digs. He claims he put nearly $200,000 into them, including $35,000 for an industrial-sized freezer located on the far wall, and still more for a “shower station,” for hosing down the carts at the end of the day.

“If they put a hotel here, where will the carts go?” he asked, sitting in his newly built office.

According to Gary Spindler, the owner of the garage and a partner of the proposed development, the nine-story building won’t necessarily become a hotel.

“We can use it as commercial space, as artist lofts, or a hotel,” he said.

food cartSasha Von Oldershausen

Mr. Spindler claims Mr. Ayub knew about the project all along. “He knows that there’s a potential development. But he’s hoping the longer it takes the better,” he said, adding that if the development is approved, Mr. Ayub’s business will be spared. “We have other similar-type buildings in and around the city. We will work closely with him to relocate him,” he said.

What this means for the food cart vendors in the area is another story.

Ali Tousir, 65, has sold pretzels, hot dogs, and soft drinks on the corner of Broadway and Fourth Street for at least ten years, and has used the garage to store his food cart for nearly as long.

“It’s easy for me, just one block away,” Mr. Tousir said. “If I find a new place, maybe it will be far.”

At the Landmarks hearing last Wednesday, Mr. Spindler defended his proposal while East Village residents, preservationists, and representatives of the Merchant’s House Museum expressed concern over the possible effects of the development on the adjacent national landmark building.

Mr. Ayub wasn’t at that meeting. He said he hadn’t heard about it.