Immigrant Opportunities at UES Fruit Cart
Alexandra Leighton and Cameron LeBlanc
By now, they are a familiar site to most New Yorkers: carts where fresh fruits and vegetables are sold on streets throughout the five boroughs. The carts are an important source of economic opportunity for immigrants, who own and operate the vast majority of them.
One such cart is located on the corner of East 87th Street and Lexington Avenue. It is owned by Okan, a 31-year-old man who moved to the United States from his hometown of Ankara, Turkey, eight years ago. He is now a successful New York City fruit vendor, supplying the neighborhood with berries, bananas, melons, tropical fruits, citrus and seasonal vegetables.
“I got the license from the health department. I work with one Turkish guy. I start the night. Did twelve hours, eight hours some times. We work like that. After that, when I learned this job, I say that I would like to make business here. That they were laughing. How come? You know. How you going to do? I said, I would like to try. You know, if I am not going to make the money, I can go back my country…”. Okan
While there have been some complaints from other stores in the area, a recent Wednesday evening visit revealed that this cart has a group of regular customers on friendly terms with Mohammed, a Moroccan immigrant who was manning the stand at the time.
With 12-hour shifts and regular trips to the Hunts Point Produce Market, running the cart is a huge time commitment for both men, but they both have loftier ambitions for their lives in the United States.
Okan and Mohammed plan on continuing to work, save, and build the business on the Upper East Side. That means a lot of conversation with customers, rotation of inventory, and empty fruit boxes on the corner of 87th and Lex.