Although the city classifies them as “informal,” the merchants who pay for stalls in municipal markets consider them “illegal.” Whatever they’re called, the 3,000 to 4,000 merchants who set up shop on sidewalks and even in streets are causing big problems and the new city government has decided to do something about it.
The situation is worse in the area around the 9th de Octubre and Rotary markets, officials say, but it is also the source of continuing complaints at Feria Libre on Av. Las Americas and other markets and plazas around the city, including the recently reopened San Francisco Plaza.
According to Marcelo Alvarez, the new city markets director, the problem is the result of a lack of action by the previous municipal government. “There were informal agreements that the vendors could occupy the sidewalks and streets,” he says. “Now, we are forced to deal with the mess. We will also have to deal with the anger when we tell them they have to relocate.”
On some days, says Alvarez, informal vendors set up sales stands in the streets, impeding traffic. “They already occupy the sidewalks so pedestrians are forced to walk into the streets and navigate through the street stands. It’s dangerous and unfair to the licensed vendors who pay for the right to sell to the public.”
The situation is worse on Calles Tomás Ordóñez, Pío Bravo, Mariano Cueva, Alvarez says, especially on Thursdays and Fridays when additional sellers come to town. According to Alvarez, some bus drivers hare forced to take detours because of the sales activity in the streets.
Most of the informal vendors sell fruits and vegetables although some sell clothing and housewares.
The city plans to register the informal vendors and move them to other locations and has passed out handbills detailing the relocation.
Angry vendors are claiming “betrayal” of the agreement with the previous government. “They said we could stay and now they say we must go,” said a vegetable seller from Cumbe. “How am I supposed to feed my family? This is unjust.”
The registered vendors are just as adamant that the street sellers should go. “They steal our businesses by locating around the markets,” says Tina Corral, who rents a stall at 9th de Octubre. “They don’t pay rent so they can sell for less. It is time the city does its job and protect those of us who obey the law.”