Sidewalk Vending

Sidewalk vending has been a common scene in local economies. It has been one of the earliest sources of income, and the forerunner of today’s supermarkets, department stores, and the like. Silently, sidewalk vending has been the lifeblood of the business scene in both small towns and big cities.

While we see medium and large businesses going up and down in a roller coaster-like scheme, the same cannot be said for sidewalk vending, as it has been either consistent or only taking minimal blows.

For this part, let us familiarize ourselves with sidewalk vending.

Sidewalk vending can be simply defined without the use of any textual sources. It is the act of running a small business set up along the sides of walkways in each street. They may consist of food products, supplies, published material, or even small services such as shoe cleaning and similar services.

Sidewalk vending can also be called street vending; however, in some places, sidewalk vending and street vending have differing definitions. The city of Wichita in the United States, for example, defines sidewalk vending as ‘engaging in the business of peddling, vending, selling, or displaying for sale any merchandise or food item, when both the vendor and the vendee are upon a public sidewalk or sidewalk area in the Central Business District’; while street vending is defined as ‘engaging in the business of peddling, vending, selling, or displaying for sale any merchandise or food that occurs while the person travels by foot or any type of conveyance from house to house or place to place, or when such merchandise or food is presented from a vehicle, cart or stand outside the Central Business District.’

But in most places, such as in India and the Philippines, street vending and sidewalk vending are interchangeable and therefore, used as same terms.

Sidewalk vending and street vending are the same in India. Photo by the National Association of Street Vendors of India

Street vendors have been in existence since ancient times. In all civilisations, ancient and medieval, one reads accounts of travelling merchants who not only sold their wares in the town by going from house to house but they also traded in neighbouring countries. Perhaps ancient and medieval civilisations were tolerant to these wandering traders and that is why they flourished. In modern times we find that street vendors are rarely treated with the same measure of dignity and tolerance. They are targeted by municipalities and police in the urban areas as illegal traders, the urban middle class complains constantly on how these vendors make urban life a living hell as they block pavements, create traffic problem and also engage in anti-social activities (though more often than not, the same representatives of middle class prefer to buy from street vendors as the goods they sell are cheaper though the quality is as good as those in the overpriced departmental stores and shopping malls).

For most street vendors, trading from the pavements is full of uncertainties. They are constantly harassed by the authorities. The local bodies conduct eviction drives to clear the pavements of these encroachers and in most cases confiscate their goods. A municipal raid is like a cat and mouse game with municipal workers chasing street vendors away while these people try to run away and hide from these marauders. Confiscation of their goods entails heavy fines for recovery. In most cases it means that the vendor has to take loans from private sources (at exorbitant interests) to either recover whatever remains of his confiscated goods or to restart his business. Besides these sudden raids, street vendors normally have to regularly bribe the authorities in order to carry out their business on the streets. All these mean that a substantive income from street vending is spent on greasing the palms of unscrupulous authorities or to private money lenders. In fact in most cases street vendors have to survive in a hostile environment though they are service providers.

There is substantial increase in the number of street vendors in the major cities around the world, especially in the developing countries of Asia, Latin America and Africa. We have identified two main causes for the growth of street vending in these countries. Firstly, lack of gainful employment coupled with poverty in rural areas has pushed people out of their villages in search of a better existence in the cities. These migrants do not possess the skills or the education to enable them to find better paid, secure employment in the formal sector and they have to settle for work in the informal sector. Secondly, there is another section of the population in these countries who are forced to join the informal sector. These are workers who were employed in the formal sector. They lost their jobs because of closures, down-sizing or mergers in the industries they worked in and they or their family members had to seek low paid work in the informal sector in order to survive. Both causes are directly related to globalisation.

Sidewalk vending in the Philippines. Photo by

In the Philippines, there is no national law in the regulation of sidewalk or street vending; however they are still required by government agencies to apply for permits. In some cities, mostly in the National Capital Region, sidewalk vending is illegal and is subject to sanctions by the local government units.

In rural cities such as Iloilo and Bacolod, sidewalk vendors are treated equally in the same level as business establishments, therefore achieving harmony and economic fluidity.


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