Street vendors in Southeast are trying every hard-sell tactic they know to hang onto a one-block strip of lucrative turf on Alabama Avenue at Naylor Road SE.

Most days, at just about any time of day, a line of cars are illegally parked in front of their stands, causing traffic backups, often for blocks, because motorists are forced into the left-turn lane whether they want to turn left or not.

Nearby residents, local advisory neighborhood commissioners, shopkeepers on the block and even the vendors agree that the parked cars are a problem.

Where they disagree is on why people insist on parking there and what should be done about it.

Some residents have been pointing fingers at the street vendors, reasoning that the cars appear to belong to customers who park for quick stops, making it difficult for police to ticket them all.

"Once in a blue moon the police will give a ticket or honk their horns for them to leave, but they come right back," said longtime vendor Al Sutton, who sells sunglasses and other small items. The police would "have to walk this block all day long, and they can't do that."

Last fall, Advisory Neighborhood Commission members looked into the problem and found that under vendor regulations passed a few years ago, the block is now officially off-limits to vendors.

The vendors appealed, saying some of them have run their stalls for five to 10 years on the strip across Alabama Avenue from the Sears store.

But the discovery of the regulations quickly divided the community into vendor supporters and opponents and touched off a debate set to be played out at a regulatory panel's public hearing Tuesday on the vendors' appeal.

"It would be great if they leave; it is a nuisance," said Patty Crutchfield, who lives about four blocks away. "That lane is always blocked . . . . I've always thought it's people stopping there to buy from the vendors. I think probably everybody feels that way."

Not so, argued Katherine Perry, who lives just around the corner. She said the cars attributed to vendor customers belong as much to people shopping at two liquor stores and several retail stores on the block, not to mention the Safeway around the corner. She said there are free parking lots nearby, but people have grown accustomed to parking there for the convenience.

"If the vendors weren't there, there would still be a parking problem because there are other commercial establishments there," agreed ANC commissioner Herbert Boyd. "If the traffic regulations were enforced by the Metropolitan Police Department, the traffic flow problem would be resolved."

ANC commissioner Bill O'Field said civic leaders have asked the police for help and the police have said they have other priorities. Seventh District police officials declined to comment.

Boyd and others said they think some residents of more upscale neighborhoods nearby are using the traffic problems as an excuse to get rid of the vendors because they see them as street clutter.

"I think some people feel they detract from the community . . . . They think they don't contribute to the aesthetic nature of the neighborhood," Boyd said. "Others feel like I do, that they add flavor and color to the neighborhood {and serve people} who can't afford to go in the stores."

The ANC, whose opinion must by law be given serious consideration by the city in decisions affecting the neighborhood, is set to vote on the issue at a town meeting tonight.

Meanwhile, the vendors are organizing support by setting up a card table between their stalls and asking passersby to sign a petition to let them stay.

They tell the people that they provide other benefits besides their wares. Their presence, they say, protects the small shops by keeping would-be robbers at bay. They say that they help move along drunks who loiter there and that they sweep the sidewalk to keep their marketplace tidy.

Vendor Lorraine Patterson said they already have gathered several thousand signatures. She said they have also started to plead with the people who park cars there.

"We'll say, 'Look, there's a parking lot there, please use it, because problems from this are falling on our shoulders,' " she said.