Chinatown vendors weigh in on Council Member Chin’s proposal to outlaw purchasing counterfeit products
Be careful next time you consider pinching pennies for a knockoff Gucci bag or pair of “designer” sunglasses in Chinatown. Council Member Margaret Chin has recently proposed a bill that would qualify the purchase of such counterfeit goods as a misdemeanor, punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail.
It’s currently illegal to hawk these products, but the proposed law would also make it an offense to purchase them.
According to a vendor in Chinatown named Atik whose store sells knockoff products, this law would certainly affect business.
“It’s Chinatown,” he said. “Some [products] are counterfeit, some are real; business is already slow, it will hurt business if the law passes.”
Darrell Cherry, a vendor who noted none of his products are counterfeit, agreed such a law would slow business in the area.
“People come down here for the counterfeit products,” said Cherry. “Eighty percent of the products are bootlegged, that’s what people come down here for. They don’t come here to mingle with the Chinese.”
“It would be a bad law,” he added.
Cherry then, however, had a change of heart.
“If I can’t buy a bag of weed without getting arrested, should they be able to come here and buy a [counterfeit] bag?”
Nigel Sylvester was one customer perusing the Chinatown shops, though his interest was the jewelry counters.
“I think the law is borderline ridiculous,” said Sylvester. “Most likely people buy [counterfeit products] because they can’t buy the authentic version.”
“There are more important things to be focusing on,” he said.
Sylvester added: “Companies like Louis Vuitton are not getting hit by this, they make so much money. I would also think it’s flattering that people want to buy into that aesthetic.”
Flattery aside, Chin says the black market of counterfeit goods on Canal Street hurts honest vendors and merchants.
“Our current laws only target the supply of these items, and not the demand,” said Chin in a statement. “We cannot keep trying to tackle this problem in the same way — because it’s not working.”
Chin’s office said that the counterfeit goods industry has boomed in recent years, which hurts businesses as well as the city, to the tune of $1 billion in tax revenue annually, according to former Comptroller Bill Thompson. Chin’s office also has said that the counterfeiting industry “supports unsafe working conditions, child labor, and low wages in countries where counterfeit goods are made” and that “funds from the counterfeit trade have been tied to terrorism and international crime rings.”
While Chin believes targeting the demand side of the equation is crucial to curtailing the black market, others in the council oppose the proposed law. Some say it unfairly targets those who may simply not know the difference between an authentic and counterfeit product. Others argue it could seriously hurt tourism in an area heavily dependent on it.
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