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One week into San Francisco vending crackdown, almost no one is happy

Man in black shirt stands in front of a stand with apparel
Rodrigo Lopez at his stand in the city-operated market for street vendors in the Mission District. | Source: Eli M. Rosenberg

Vendors on San Francisco's Mission Street say that the markets set up by the city for their businesses after they were banned last week from selling on the strip are dead zones—with few customers and even fewer sales. 

Stakeholders across the spectrum agree the ban has led to a more orderly streetscape, however, the ultimate impact of the policy is still an open question.

Four vendors told The Standard that they each sold less than $20 worth of goods each day they operated in the new markets, a fraction of what they saw prior to the ban. One market is indoors at 2137 Mission St. near the 16th Street BART Station, and the other is outdoors, under tents on Capp Street at the corner of 24th Street.

“I didn’t even sell a penny yesterday,” Rodrigo Lopez, who sells shoes, children’s clothing and electronics, said Friday. He worked on Mission Street until the city ban went into place last Monday and has since moved to the market area.  

“The guy who sold the most stuff yesterday made $5,” Lopez added. “We hope today it’s going to be better.”

It wasn’t. By the afternoon, he hadn’t made a sale, for the second day in a row.

Lopez said he was bothered by the persistence of illicit vending along Mission Street, even after the ban.

A women stands on the center of a taped off black and yellow rectangle in an empty warehouse looking space with a lone DJ in the background.
Idalia Lopez stands in a 6-by-6-foot vending space at El Tiangue on Mission Street on Nov. 27. | Source: Gina Castro/The Standard

At midday Thursday, two people were selling goods such as toothpaste out of suitcases on the street in violation of the ban. On Friday, the street remained mostly clear, save for a stretch just north of the 24th Street Station, where four vendors peddled deodorant, shampoo, toothpaste and other products in front of bags or suitcases. 

When the police joined Department of Public Works inspectors for a stroll down the block a few minutes later—poof!—they were all gone. Another impromptu salesman set up shop selling jeans and other wares out of a suitcase in the plaza while the inspection team walked down the block.

“Pack it up,” an inspector said to the seller, after returning to the area.  

The foot traffic Lopez and other vendors relied on at or near the busy Mission District BART plazas has yet to materialize at the two sanctioned vending sites— which are further away from the BART stations and located off the main thoroughfare.

On Friday afternoon, about a dozen vendors were working out of the larger market at 2137 Mission St. inside a formerly vacant storefront. 

The market has more than 40 spaces for vendors. Christmas decorations—Santas, reindeer and trees—had been set up inside to create a holiday market atmosphere, but there didn’t appear to be a single customer inside. 

Collateral Damage

The issues underscored the conundrum officials face on Mission Street: They hope to preserve the street’s vitality and bustle, while cracking down on illicit activity, like the theft and resale of stolen goods, that has proliferated in recent years. 

City officials, including Mayor London Breed, have said the ban was necessary to restore order. Officials admit they don’t know what comes after the 90-day ban—whether they’ll keep it going or find another way to keep stolen goods off the block. 

Ryen Motzek, president of the Mission Merchants Association, said some brick-and-mortar business owners have noticed an improvement in street conditions and foot traffic since enforcement began.

Motzek, who runs a permitted vending space at 18th and Valencia called City Station, said he sympathizes with legitimate street vendors who were forced to move. However, he said he believes illegal vendors made the situation untenable and dangerous for local businesses, patrons and city workers.

“It feels like the bad actors ruined it for everyone,” Motzek said. “Things started to get a little hairy.”

That being said, Motzek maintained that street vending is a valuable part of the Mission community. He argued the new indoor markets could be more successful if the city spent money promoting them.

“There hasn’t been a lot of energy gone into marketing it,” Motzek said. “[The city] is probably spending a pretty penny dealing with the vending. … That money could’ve gone into organizing.”

At the market on Mission Street, Luz Ledesma and her mother, Juana Hernandez, said they had two customers Friday, for a total of $10 in sales. The two have taken to stepping into the storefront’s door to try to entice people off the street and drum up a fraction of the business they used to have at their place on 23rd and Mission streets, where sales averaged about $150 an afternoon.

“We don’t have enough for food, the rent or transportation,” Hernandez said. “Ten dollars is not going to allow us to survive.”

An older woman stands next to a younger woman behind a table with silver and gold jewelry
Luz Ledesma, right, and her mother, Juana Hernandez, say sales at the market are a fraction of what they used to make on the street. | Source: Eli M. Rosenberg

Cesar Oyagata, who said he has been a vendor for a quarter century on Mission Street, moved his stand with crafts like wallets, bracelets, hats and other accessories to the outdoor market on Capp Street near 24th Street after the ban. 

His total sales since Tuesday? Two wallets, for $10 a piece.

The market, with a half dozen vendors under white tents, had a DJ playing party music, but no customers on Friday afternoon. It shares the lot with a flu and Covid booster site, which was also quiet. 

Gladys Maigua, who has been selling crafts and accessories in the same market since the ban, said she sold $5 worth of products on Thursday. She had tried to move into the entry of a store on Mission Street, with the store’s blessing—but was soon told to pack up by Public Works employees.

Permitted vendors said they hoped the city could continue to work toward a better resolution for them. One floated the idea of a holiday night market, where some popular streets could be shut down.

A man in a yello shirt sits behind a table with variosu good including barcelets and necklaces
Cesar Oyagata at his stand in the outdoor market for permitted vendors on 24th Street at Capp Street. | Source: Eli M. Rosenberg

City officials said vendors could apply for permits to set up shop in other areas, saying they’d be willing to consider permits for commercial areas outside of the Mission Street corridor.

But some vendors said they had encountered obstacles at Public Works, which issues such permits. After exchanging emails and phone calls, Lopez said he was told by employees a few weeks ago that it was not issuing or renewing permits while the 90-day ban was taking effect. 

By Friday afternoon, he had received an email from Public Works laying out the guidelines for updated permitted requests. It said that permitted vendors can select “alternate locations” to sell from during the ban and that the department will issue updated permits for them.

Public Works did not respond to a request for comment.

Supervisor Hillary Ronen defended the ban, saying she’s been overwhelmed by the amount of positive feedback she’s received since it was implemented.

“Ive never gotten this amount of thank you notes,” Ronen said. “People say they're feeling safe using the BART station for the first time in a year.”

Ronen expressed sympathy for legitimate vendors suffering under the sanctioned markets, which she acknowledged haven’t been successful. However, she argued her hands were tied due to increasingly unsafe conditions caused by illegal vending.

“A criminal fencing enterprise came in to the Mission and took control of the streets,” Ronen said. “Fencing, which has been a traditional part of the community for decades, had been overtaken by a stolen goods market.”

'We Had To Move Outside'

Idalia Lopez, one of the vendors who had agreed to move into the 2137 Mission St. market, moved to a new spot outdoors over the weekend on the northeast corner of Capp and 24th streets—just outside of the restricted sales zone.

"We had to come outside because [in] the new spaces, we won't even sell $5 worth of merchandise," she told The Standard as she answered customers' questions about the cost of her merchandise. "If we don't look after our own well-being, what are we going to do if Supervisor Ronen doesn't want us in those places where we've fought to be at for years?"

Lopez said she was told by Ronen's office there is a possibility that after the 90-day ban she could return to her usual spot near the Pollo Campero restaurant on Mission. She said she is ready to make Capp and 24th work if it doesn't happen.

"They gave me a spot inside, but I can't sell anything in there," she said. "On Saturday, I made $140 in sales compared to not making even $1 inside."

Empty spaces inside of the approved vendor space at 2137 Mission Street on Sunday.
Vendor spaces at the 2137 Mission St. market sit empty on Sunday. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

Inside the 2137 Mission market, Maria Avila stood alongside her merchandise of purses, cosmetics and pajamas. She was one of just five vendors who were working out of the space on Sunday afternoon.

"The people don't come in," she said, recalling that she has only made $30 in six days. "That doesn't even cover the cost of food."

Still, Avila doesn't see herself leaving the indoor market, saying she feels like it is her only option.

Maria Avila stands next to her items inside the vendor space at 2137 Mission Street. Avila says she has only made $20-30 in the six days of being at the location.
Maria Avila stands next to her merchandise at the 2137 Mission St. market. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

"The problem is that if we go out to the street, we don't know if business owners or homeowners will run us away from wherever we set up," she said. "We've thought about it and [for] now we are planning on staying inside. It's hard to move all the time."

Marco Senghor, owner of Bissap Baobab on Mission Street, said he’s noticed a decrease in street vending but hasn’t noticed an increase in foot traffic or sales. Senghor said he feels the street vending ban has thus far hurt the neighborhood.

“The Mission used to be vibrant. Seeing people outside gave us a sense of life. It was cool in some ways,” Senghor said. “I understand it affected business, but now what do we have left to show?”

Inside BART's 16th Street Station, Victor Hernandez waited for a train back to the East Bay. Hernandez, who lived in the neighborhood for 20 years before moving to Oakland, said he doesn't see the new ban on vendors changing anything in the Mission.

"Those who are up there selling stolen stuff will leave and come back whenever police come and go," he said.

For Hernandez, increasing the police presence in the area won't solve the issue of drug use and crime and banning vendors takes away from the spirit of the Mission.

"It is going to be why not a lot of people will visit," he said. "The tourists come, and ... they'll still see those who are selling drugs or on drugs."

Joel Umanzor can be reached at jumanzor@sfstandard.com
David Sjostedt can be reached at david@sfstandard.com