Street vendors have been an essential part of Los Angeles street culture and commerce since the late 19th century when fruit and vegetable peddlers, among others vendors, could be seen ferrying goods around the city by wagon, bicycle and on foot.
Today, an estimated 50,000 street vendors work on the streets of Los Angeles, according to a 2014 report commissioned by the City of Los Angeles (the total vendor population across the county is unknown). Vendors make up a sprawling informal economy of makeshift stands, pushcarts and food trucks that bring life. culture and social cohesion to neighborhoods, while also making city streets feel safer for pedestrians.
Although street vendors and advocates achieved a historic victory in 2018 with the passage of the Safe Sidewalk Vending Act, which promised to decriminalize street vending and create a pathway to legal vending, the reality has been more complicated.
Street vending remains functionally illegal in Los Angeles due to a convoluted and costly permitting process that continues to shut out most vendors, leaving them at risk of aggressive crackdowns, confiscation of goods and fines.
Vendors also risk being robbed, harassed or assaulted every time they go to work. These crimes have been steadily rising in the past decade — according to the nonprofit newsroom Crosstown, reported crimes against street vendors in Los Angeles rose nearly 337%, jumping from 38 to 166, between the years 2010 to 2019.
Working as a street vendor takes bravery.Edin Enamorado
"Working as a street vendor takes bravery," said Edin Enamorado, a street vendor activist who began to distribute free pepper spray to street vendors after a brutal daytime attack on a young Latino fruit vendor in Long Beach in 2020.
Last year, Enamorado began offering free personal security detail for vendors who feel unsafe working in crime hotspots. He is also currently organizing free self-defense classes for street vendors.
"Vendors face challenges from all sides, from citizens who attempt to rob them, and also the department of Public Health and the city, who want to shut them down," he said.
"But it really doesn't take that much to make a difference."
If you want to help L.A. street vendors, Enamorado offers these suggestions:
- Follow local street vendor nonprofit groups on Instagram, such as Inclusive Action for the City, Community Power Collective, the East LA Community Corporation and Public Counsel. These groups often post information and "action items" related to issues facing LA street vendors.
- Follow and tag your favorite street vending businesses on Instagram. It's a simple way to amplify their work, said Enamorado. Better yet, get to know the street vendors in your area: "If you have a vendor on your street, spend some time with them. Check to make sure they're safe, especially if they're working alone," he said.
- Shop local. You can't get much more local than your neighborhood elotero or taco stand. Supporting street vendors not only helps small business owners survive during the pandemic, but also benefits the local economy. According to a 2015 Economic Roundtable report, street vending has a complementary effect on brick-and-mortar retailers and generates sufficient tax revenue to sustain 5,234 jobs in Los Angeles.
- Voice your opinion. Most city council meetings offer a way for citizens to submit a public comment either in person, in writing, or by calling into a meeting. If there's a contentious issue related to street vending in your area, this is a good place to weigh in. "The mayor and the council members are actually forced to hear you out. I recommend everyone do it," said Enamorado.