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Shops, vendors on Canal Street hoped for a last-minute shopping boost, but say it hasn’t come

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The street vendors and small stores along Canal Street have long attracted shoppers who are drawn to the cheap prices, New York knick knacks and counterfeit goods. But on the day before Christmas, business was slow and vendors were disappointed.

“Right now there’s too much cold,” said Saifullah Shad, who works at one of the small gift shops on the street. The sidewalks were busy but few people were stopping to browse or carrying shopping bags.

“It’s been slow and our expectation is more than right now,” Shad said. “But, right now, customers are slower than other days.”

While tourism in the city has been mostly up this year, many of the visitors to Canal Street weren’t doing a lot of buying. “I like to see Chinatown, the different prices. But really it doesn’t matter to me that it’s Christmas, I don’t celebrate it,” said Junior Diaz, who was visiting with his family from Indiana. “It’s my time off from my job to take a couple of days off to show my daughters New York City.”

Many of the vendors said business has been slow for the entire shopping season and were hoping business would pick up for Christmas Eve. Several shopkeepers said they would remain open until 10 p.m.

Several street vendors appeared to be working underground rather than having items out on display. They worked in groups, mostly selling electronics, watches and designer bags out of duffle bags. One vendor quickly shooed away a reporter asking questions, saying there’s been very little business.

Across the city there has been a crackdown on unlicensed vendors, including at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn. And more than 80 vendors lost their livelihoods in Corona Park, Queens, during a crackdown in September. Calls of complaint about street vendors to the city’s 311 hotline are on the rise.

But even the street sellers with permits seemed to be experiencing more stress. They say it’s harder than it used to be to make a living, most likely because a lot of customers are now shopping online.

One of those shoppers, Jane Alexander, was visiting from Pittsburgh. She wasn’t on Canal Street to Christmas shop, she said, because she had already gotten that done online. Instead, she just wanted to soak up the scene.

“It’s very different. It’s very different. It’s literally like a different country,” Alexander said.

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