They are everywhere in public places. You can see them beside the roads, at the front of the churches, schools, hospitals, markets, malls, plaza, terminals and other places where they can sell their goods or products. You can see them early in the morning until there are no passers who they can sell to. They put their products or goods inside their cart that they push every day. At late night you can see them pulling and pushing their cart to go home or to change their location where they can sell. They are street vendors who sell with their “kariton”.
Street vendors are an integral part of an urban economics 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.
A street vendor sells merchandise from a cart or station located near an area where an area where pedestrians walk by. A vendor’s main objective is to make money by selling items that people need or want. Often these items are food-related, as those are the easiest permits to obtain.
A street vendor’s workplace is ideally a highly trafficked area located in an area with plenty of businesses and people. The weather is an element that all vendors must deal with. Days with perfect weather will yield higher profits, but vendors will also have to contend with days of pouring rain, high winds, and biting cold in which they will be lucky to break even for the day. It can be a long day that slowly drags by when no one is coming to a vendor’s cart, or it can be just the opposite with lines of people waiting to buy the items being sold.
Street vendors deliver many benefits, both to themselves and to their communities. For starters, since vending has low start-up costs, it expands economic opportunities. As a result, these entrepreneurs can create new jobs and make a living to support their families, all while at a fraction of the cost of starting other ventures.
The Informal Monitoring Study (IEMS) revealed ways in which street vendors in five cities strengthen their communities:
- Most street vendors provide the main source of income for their households, bringing food to their families and paying school fees for their children.
Street vendors have a family to support. They use their income to buy food and to provide the needs of their children to send them to school.
- 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.
- Many vendors try to keep the streets clean and safe for their customers and provide them friendly personal advice.
- Street vendors create jobs, not only for themselves but for porters, security guards, transport operations, storage providers, and others.
- 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.
Vendors provide “eyes on the street,” making cities safer. As one urban scholar put it, “A well-used street is apt to be a safe street.” Street vendors can attract people to shop and move outside their home, making communities more vibrant and less hazardous. Plus, since many vendors are out on the streets for many hours a day, they can help monitor for potential crime.
Street vendors are large and very visible workforce in cities, yet it is difficult to accurately estimate their numbers. Official statistics are available for some countries, though they may underestimate the population engaged in street vending.
Street trade accounts for a significant proportion of informal non-agricultural employment in Africa. Street vendors make up 13 percent up Dakar, Senegal; 19 percent in Cotonou, Benin; and 24 percent in Lome, Togo.
In some Asian and Latin America cities, street vendors form a large portion of the urban workforce:
- Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: 11 percent
- Lima, Peru: 9 percent
National level statistics reveal that street vendors account for 11 percent of total urban employment in India and 15 percent in South Africa.
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.