Por Kennedy Plant
I decided to visit one of the fruit stand carts near USC because I have seen these food vendors since my freshman year moving around different parts around campus, whether it be the village or on Figueroa, and have never actually given them a try. Before heading there, I was thinking about what their usual clientele might be, because to be honest, I can’t recall a time where I’ve actually passed one of the vendors and seen a line of people waiting to buy a fresh fruit salad, even though I’ve always commented on how refreshing they look. Has the decrease in students around the USC area during the pandemic been a detriment to their sales and success? Or are their customers not even made up of USC students? After reading about the economy that they take place in, and the regulations put in place that are a detriment to their livelihoods and hard work, these were the sort of questions I was very curious to know.
Aside from the fruit carts, the other type of vendor that I was thinking about, of which I have more experience, are the ones that sell what we call “Victory Dogs”, bacon wrapped hot dogs with fajitas, mayonnaise, and ketchup, during USC football games around the Coliseum and outside of campus. These are a tradition among my family, my friends, and I, when walking to or from football games, even to the point that during the football games this year when no fans were allowed in the stadium, my roommates and I would make Victory Dogs while we watched, because it has been so integral in our USC football experience. I thought a lot about these vendors, which are found at more than just USC sporting events, but outside of the Staples Center after concerts or basketball/hockey games, and outside of many other event centers throughout the Los Angeles area.
Upon arriving to the fruit stand, there was no one waiting in line, so I was able to order my fruit and ask the vendor about her experience running one of these near USC’s campus, and what it has been like since the pandemic began. She confirmed some of what I expected; that her sales had sunk by quite a bit, especially with the lack of many students around during the height of the pandemic last spring and summer. Now, there are more students back, but her business is still suffering and she’s not sure when she can expect a comeback.
I’m sure she shares the same sentiments of many street vendors around the Los Angeles area; they don’t know what to anticipate next, just like the rest of the country, having to take this pandemic day by day and adjust as new information comes to us. Though these street vendors are put at a much higher disadvantage due to the lack of resources and accessibility to government aide than brick and mortar restaurants and shops. During the start of the pandemic, Los Angeles imposed “an emergency motion to ban unlicensed street vending” (Bautista 2020), stripping the recent win of decriminalizing street vending in the city, and stripping these vendors of their ability to receive an income. Now, as they are allowing “licensed” vendors with permits to operate, their attempt at providing relief to vendors has gone unnoticed, due to the fact that only 1% of vendors in LA have received the expensive permit (Villafana 2021). To add to that, “street vendors have also been mostly shut out of economic relief packages” (Bautista 2020), furthering the damage to the livelihoods of members this community. This is the result of working within what is called the informal economy which is described as “actividades que no están protegidas, reguladas o, comúnmente, valoradas socialmente”(Short 2020). Essentially, these street vendors support an economy that rejects them as part of their own.
And while the street vendors are not receiving the same support as other types of stores and restaurants, some argue that street vendors should be one of the ways to uphold the economy as it experiences lockdowns and heavy regulations that make certain restaurants hard and expensive to operate. John Rennie Short in his article, “La venta callejera hace más vivas, seguras y justas las ciudades, por eso pertenece a la escena urbana post-COVID-19” describes why street vending can be a positive for cities during this time. He mentions that in addition to diffusing some of the economic damage from the pandemic, it also would be much easier to maintain social distancing in an outdoor setting rather than indoors. Lastly, because of how many cities are already working to reconfiguring their outdoor dining options by widening sidewalks, it gives street vendors the ability to thrive (Short 2020).The discrepancies we are seeing between how Los Angeles County is treating street vendors during the pandemic and the opportunity for them to be thriving members of our economy is what is harming those who are running their stands.
Bautista, N. (2020, July 24). Los Angeles street vendors already had it Tough. then the Pandemic Hit. Retrieved April 08, 2021, from https://www.foodandwine.com/news/la-street-vendors-on-the-toll-of-the-pandemic
Rennie Short John Rennie Short is a Friend of The Conversation. Professor, J. (2021, January 26). La Venta CALLEJERA hace más vivas, seguras y justas Las ciudades, por eso PERTENECE a la ESCENA URBANA POST-COVID-19. Retrieved April 08, 2021, from https://theconversation.com/la-venta-callejera-hace-mas-vivas-seguras-y-justas-las-ciudades-por-eso-pertenece-a-la-escena-urbana-post-covid-19-143869
Ross, J., & Villafana, J. (2021, March 17). Fines and confiscation: Explaining l.a.’s arbitrary street food cart law the county uses to criminalize street vendors ~ l.a. taco. Retrieved April 08, 2021, from https://www.lataco.com/carts-street-food/