From dawn to dusk in sidewalks is their work life scene. Arranging goods are their masterpiece, something to take care about. Passersby fascinate about what they are selling, but others think it’s not. People sometimes look down on them, but they didn’t know the whole story.
Street vendors are an integral part of urban economies around the world, offering easy access to a wide range of goods and services in public spaces. They sell everything from fresh vegetables to prepared foods, from building materials to garments and crafts, from consumer electronics to auto repairs to haircuts.
The Informal Economy Monitoring Study (IEMS) revealed ways in which street vendors in five cities strengthen their communities:
First, most street vendors provide the main source of income for their households, bringing food to their families and paying school fees for their children.
Second, these informal workers have strong linkages to the formal economy. Over half the IEMS sample said they source the goods they sell from formal enterprises. Many customers work in formal jobs.
Third, many vendors try to keep the streets clean and safe for their customers and provide them with friendly personal service.
Fourth, street vendors create jobs, not only for themselves but for porters, security guards, transport operators, storage providers, and others.
Lastly, many generate revenue for cities through payments for licenses and permits, fees and fines, and certain kinds of taxes. This was true of two thirds of street vendors in the IEMS sample.
Street trade also adds vibrancy to urban life and in many places is considered a cornerstone of historical and cultural heritage. Yet street vendors face many challenges, are often overlooked as economic agents and unlike other businesses, are hindered rather than helped by municipal policies and practices.
Low barriers to entry, limited start-up costs, and flexible hours are some of the factors that draw street vendors to the occupation. Many people enter street vending because they cannot find a job in the formal economy.
But surviving as a street vendor requires a certain amount of skill. Competition among vendors for space in the streets and access to customers is strong in many cities. And vendors must be able to negotiate effectively with wholesalers and customers.
Street trade can offer a viable livelihood, but earnings are low and risks are high for many vendors, especially those who sell fresh fruits and vegetables (Roever, 2014). Having an insecure place of work is a significant problem for those who work in the streets. Lack of storage, theft or damage to stock are common issues.
By-laws governing street trade can be confusing and licenses hard to get, leaving many street vendors vulnerable to harassment, confiscations and evictions. The IEMS research found that even vendors with a license had trouble finding a secure vending location, and those following the regulations sometimes had their goods confiscated.
Working outside, street vendors and their goods are exposed to strong sun, heavy rains and extreme heat or cold. Unless they work in markets, most don’t have shelter or running water and toilets near their workplace. Inadequate access to clean water is a major concern of prepared food vendors.
Street vendors face other routine occupational hazards. Many lift and haul heavy loads of goods to and from their point of sale. Market vendors are exposed to physical risk due to a lack of proper fire safety equipment, and street vendors are exposed to injury from the improper regulation of traffic in commercial areas.
Insufficient waste removal and sanitation services result in unhygienic market conditions and undermine vendors’ sales as well as their health, and that of their customers.
Economic downturns have a big impact on vendors’ earnings. In 2009, an Inclusive Cities research project found many street vendors reported a drop in consumer demand and an increase in competition as the newly unemployed turned to vending for income.
A second round of research, done in 2010, found demand had not recovered for most vendors, and many had to raise prices due to the higher cost of goods. Competition had increased further as large retailers aggressively tried to attract customers.
The 2012 Informal Economy Monitoring Study confirmed that rising prices and increased competition were still affecting street vendors in several cities. Vendors said their stock was more expensive, but they had difficulty passing on rising costs to consumers, who expect to negotiate low prices on the streets. More competition means vendors take home lower earnings.
Every social system must cater to the needs of its members to enable them to survive; it must have effective means of allocating and distributing resources. The vendors provide a wide array of goods and commodities to the urban populace at reasonable prices and convenient locations. The type of goods they sell makes an interesting study—from daily needs like vegetables, fruits, fish, meat and snacks to occasional needs like flowers and readymade garments.
Vendors exhibit remarkable entrepreneurial skills. Purchasing of commodities is no easy task with constant market fluctuations. Besides, middlemen have a major say in the wholesale markets. Commodities have to be in sync with both consumer tastes and paying capacity. As most vendors deal in perishables, the goods have to be sold at the right time.
Studies show that the largest concentration of vendors is in the age group 16-35 years. It indicates that vending involves enormous physical labor. A vendor starts early in the morning with the day’s purchase. The marketing place is invariably far from his residence. Bringing large sacks of vegetables and fruits and loading them in a rickshaw cart is a tedious job. Arranging, cleaning, sorting, weighing and dealing with customers is not easy. Hawkers are on the move from one lane to another irrespective of the heat, wind, rain and cold. Calling out loud to attract buyers, consumes time and energy.
Vendors are regularly subjected to mental and physical pressures by city officials. At times this has led to riotous situations, loss of property, or monetary loss. A major problem is that master plans prepared for our cities do not allocate space to vendors/hawkers, as planners blindly imitate the western concept of marketing, ignoring Indian traditions. No wonder, weekly markets struggle to survive and natural markets are ignored. The policy statements of the regional development authorities talk of making provision for trading and commercial activities, which unfortunately is interpreted as making provision for rich traders and big business.