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Food Vendors Find Few Customers During Protest

By Kristi Oloffson Hilke Schellmann for The Wall Street JournalFood-cart vendors around Zuccotti Square have seen business drop off dramatically since the beginning of the protests more than three weeks ago.A tiny sliver of the 99% championed by the protesters say they have been directly hurt by Occupy Wall Street: food-cart vendors and other small businesses surrounding the small park at the center of the demonstration.“Let them leave soon,” said Abderrahim Marhraoui, the owner of a Halal food cart who has been selling chicken kebabs and gyros in the park since 2003. Marhraoui estimated that sales are down as much as 80% during the protest and said he plans to go return to his native Morrocco if things don’t pick up by the end of the month.Before it became a 24-hour protest encampment, Zuccotti Park attracted a lunchtime crowd from the offices in the Financial District. In interviews Tuesday, more than three weeks after the protesters arrived, the dozen or so food vendors who work around the park said their businesses have taken a nose dive.The vendors complained that crowded and dirty conditions have forced regular customers out, and patronage from protesters — who are well fed thanks a steady stream of donations — hasn’t made up for absent office workers.“The workers used to have lunch down there,” Marhraoui said, pointing to the park’s dirty and crowded scene. “What can I do?”Other vendors expressed similar frustrations. One smoothie vendor said sales has fallen between 30% to 40% over the past three weeks. Workers at the fruit stand selling produce from Migliorelli Farm in Tivoli, N.Y., blamed the protest for driving off about a third of their normal sales.Ali Amin, whose breakfast cart is usually empty by noon, pointed to three rows mostly full of donuts, muffins and pastries around midday on Tuesday. He has been serving customers in the same spot on on the edge of the park has been for 20 years.“The regular customer doesn’t come in here… It’s very hard to bring my customer back,” Amin said. “I wish they finish things soon.”But perhaps no one was more frustrated than Stacey Tzortzatos, owner and manager of Panini & Co. Breads. She said she’d likely join the protesters — if they weren’t hurting her business so much.“All I know is that my business fell 40%,” she said. “My regular Wall Street suit-and-tie people don’t want to come.”Tzortzatos and her husband opened the business in 2004. Protesters have been using the restrooms so heavily that the restaurant has experienced flooding.“I’m not a conglomerate like they’re trying to fight,” she said. “I cannot pay my expenses.”

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