The street vendors of yesteryear were often immigrants trying to make a living in a new country; or people who simply wanted to supplement a steady income by working their weekend hobby – selling art and jewelry, clothing and incense; an exotic dish or fast foods. Today’s street vendor is most likely a laid-off professional, a war veteran or a single parent trying to make rent.
Many of them “look like” Jackie Lloyd, a street vendor who can make $150 on a good day selling her array of body oils, shea butter, soaps and incense neatly arranged on a sequined purple tablecloth. But some days, she is lucky to bring in $20. Four years ago, before she was laid off from her job as an elementary school cafeteria worker, Jackie had a steady salary and regular hours. She laments,
“If I just had a 9-to-5 job, it’d be guaranteed money,” she said. “Then again, I’m my own boss, and I meet different people every day.”
Some look like 27-year-old Karina Mendez, who runs a clothing store in a space she shares with an auto body shop. Since business has been so slow, she only opens a few days a week. She and her husband, an unemployed restaurant cook, are struggling to make ends meet. She says, “We need to pay our bills, so we’re trying to make some extra money. And if I think about it, I make more money here selling hot dogs than at my clothing store.”
The ranks of sidewalk merchants have swelled since the economy soured in 2007. The group is now an estimated 10,000 countywide, according to a recent report by the Los Angeles chief legislative analyst’s office.
More men joined the ranks after losing jobs in construction and restaurants. Now they are hawking clothing, food, knickknacks and more, said Janet Favela, an organizer with the Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign. Younger vendors, in their 20s and 30s, are more common.
“They have to work Saturdays and Sundays too, or they’re not going to make it,” Favela adds.
According to the Los Angeles Times, street merchants also factor into the region’s growing economy of sole proprietors. Working alone has become a popular business model since the recession as companies cut jobs and boosted productivity and many workers were forced to stay in the labor pool past retirement age.
“A lot of the businesses we encounter are one-man or one-woman shops,” said David Berkus, a counselor with the greater Los Angeles chapter of nonprofit small business association SCORE. “They’re looking for ways to give themselves some job security.”