Tossing an empty soda cup between his hardened but unusually clean repairman’s hands, Natividad Zirate, the homeless bicycle doctor of Second Avenue, smiled darkly as he described how the parks department had shut down his bustling sidewalk repair shop this week.
“They came at yesterday at 12:30; I was down in Chinatown to buy some shoes,” he said Friday, standing in the sun on the northeast corner of Houston Street and Second Avenue, across the street from Sara Delano Roosevelt Park. He has operated an unofficial bike-repair business there off and on for several years.
He glanced down at his new brown boots. “They’re cheap: $20,” he said, before pulling from his pocket a single link from a broken chain lock, a golden letter C. “They cut it,” he said of the lock.
Until now, he seemed to be a steady symbol of the city’s expanding culture of cycling. His business was among a handful of similar ramshackle, improvised operations to appear in New York in recent years, the type of off-the-books bike businesses more commonly found in Beijing than on the Lower East Side or in Harlem.
An itinerant man with a knack for resuscitating old bicycles, Mr. Zirate rapidly acquired a following among delivery men and cyclists who regularly stop by to chat.
“This is Dr. Bikenstein: He brings dead bikes back to life!” exclaimed Gerald Howard, 62, a neighbor and loyal customer who rolled up on an aging Raleigh that Mr. Zirate had revived. “He’s my maintenance guy.”
Business boomed two summers ago and Mr. Zirate invested in a broader range of tools, expanding from a greasy black rollerboard suitcase stuffed with spare parts to a brushed metal delivery cart with rubber wheels that served as his mobile shop.
After working last summer, he stored the cart in the basement of a nearby building where he knows the superintendent and spent the winter in California. He returned to New York in late March, he said, but had trouble getting his cart out of the basement and returned to his usual corner spot, in front of a fenced-in neighborhood garden, only last week.
Almost immediately, he knew there would be trouble.
A pair of parks department enforcement officers came by and told him that he could not repair bikes on the street. “The very first day, they gave me a taste,” he said. “But they never mentioned any confiscation.”
Mr. Zirate ignored them, having enjoyed a relatively friendly relationship with police officers in the neighborhood, and began to work again.
On Thursday, before his trip to Chinatown, Mr. Zirate locked his cart with all of his tools to a no-standing sign on his corner. When he returned, he found the same two parks officers struggling to lift the cart, which had been removed from the pole, into the back of a garbage truck.
“The box was too heavy,” he said, referring to his cart, “so they threw tools into the truck, bike wrenches, spoke threader, a sledgehammer, hammers.”
“Finally, they lift the box,” he said, pausing. “And they crushed it.”
The parks department confirmed that the officers had disposed of his cart, which they said was filled with plastic bags of garbage.
“All New Yorkers agree that it’s important to have clean, safe parks and one of the ways we make that happen is through the work of our parks enforcement patrol officers,” said Vickie Karp, a department spokeswoman. “When they see hazardous conditions, in this case tools laid out on a byway, they address them.”
Though Mr. Zirate operated across from Sara Delano Roosevelt Park, enforcement officers often work in areas adjacent to parks department property as well as within the parks themselves, according to the department.
The department said that the officers did not give Mr. Zirate a ticket, a necessary step if they were to confiscate and hold the cart, rather than just get rid of it.
Mr. Zirate as the officers were throwing the tools into the garbage truck, they returned several items to him, including a sleeping bag and a backpack containing $1,000 in cash.
As for everything else, he added: “They said, ‘It’s garbage.’ That’s all they said.”
Dejected and without his tools, he vowed to continue repairing bikes on the corner. “I’m gonna buy a pump and probably a few tools and sit over here,” he said.
As he spoke, a man called out from a delivery van stopped at a red light.
“Paisano!” the man yelled and began joking with Mr. Zirate in Spanish before pulling away.
“He says, ‘Bring me a bike or a beer, but I’d rather have both,’” Mr. Zirate said. “He’s one of my customers.”