A Boyle Heights block grows more crowded with vendors and tension

Boyle Heights vendor Martha Nuñez Marin/Photo by Ana Facio Contreras

By Ana Facio Contreras *

It was after 10 a.m. on a recent Saturday, and street vendor Martha Nuñez Marin wanted to make sure she got a choice spot near the busy intersection of Cesar E. Chavez Avenue and Soto Street. When she got to the space – a strip of sidewalk in front of Payless Shoe Source and a bus stop – she parked her shopping cart, brimming with bags of potato chips, green, white and red Mexican coconut bars and peanut and caramel patties. Nearly everyday, she and other illegal street vendors vie for this prime piece of sidewalk real estate, which produces lots of foot traffic from shoppers and bus riders. But when Nuñez Marin, 53, began to sell her snacks eight months ago, two vendors who sell similar snacks confronted her with anger.

“They told me to leave this corner and go someplace else. I said to them, ‘Do you pay rent for the sidewalk? When you pay, then you can tell me to move.’ I have a right to be here like anybody else to make money to help myself.”

Nuñez Marin is part of a growing number of vendors who have set up shop on the sidewalks of Boyle Heights in a sign of hard economic times. There have always been street peddlers in Boyle Heights and neighboring communities, but there seems to be more now and it has increased tensions, say police, business owners, residents, and the vendors themselves.

Squabbles between vendors are becoming more frequent, some say. Last Friday, jewelry vendor, Marcos Perez, 45, said he and others were ordered by police to pack up and leave. He said he had heard that two vendors had been fighting over turf. “They ruin it for all of us.” Police also shut down what’s become a popular collection of food vendors that gather in a Breed Street parking lot, according to a post on the Eat Los Angeles blog (h/t to LA Observed).

The general consensus is that the ranks of vendors has increased over the last two years. Their presence is most noticeable after dusk on Friday and Saturday, when dozens of them set up small stands next to the Bank of America on Breed Street, selling everything frompathizes with both Sideres and the vendors. “We’re all trying to survive in these hard times, whether you have a business or work on the streets.”

Photos by Ana Facio Contreras

* The Eastsider would like to welcome Ana Facio Contreras as a contributor to the blog. Ana will be focusing her attention on Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles, where many of her family members live, and other Eastside communities. Click here for a full version of Ana’s vendor story.

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