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Mission Street vendors say city street ban is ‘unfair’

A few cops and SF Public Works employees stand at 16th St. BART plaza on Wednesday morning
Wren Farrell
A few cops and SF Public Works employees stand at 16th St. BART plaza on Wednesday morning

Coming out of the BART station and onto 16th street, it appears that the city is still cracking down on vendors. There are a few public works employees and SFPD officers hanging out, but no one is selling anything outside of the station.

“It’s mixed emotions for the community, it’s mixed emotions for the vendors. I mean, street vending is part of the culture, so you know, it's disheartening to not see them out there. 'Cause that's what makes the Mission the Mission right? They're part of that.”

This is Alma Castellanos. She’s the Director of Operations at Clecha, they’re the non-profit in charge of running one of the spaces the city has asked vendors to move to. But on this gray Wednesday morning, only a handful of the available spots are being used.

According to Castellanos, most vendors have moved elsewhere.

“They feel that being outside is probably better for them. So a lot of 'em have actually looked elsewhere in different areas and started vending there. I know some of 'em went to Market Street. I know some of 'em have moved down lower on 24th Street. And then I've also heard that some have moved up towards Valencia Street as well.”

But for the vendors who are here, things feel unfair. Rodrigo Lopez is set up today, selling some clothing, electronics and hygiene products. But he says business has been slow.

"We sell maybe five, ten, fifteen dollars a day, sometimes–some days zero, nothing."

He says he wants to follow the rules, and do what the city tells him to do. But it’s frustrating, because he sees people who are still illegally vending, if not directly outside of the BART stations, then just down the street.

"There's still a lot of vendors. You don't have to wait till 5:00 PM, if you go to Capp Street. It's a bunch of vendors already. They move, uh, if you go to between 23 and 24 on the one of the sidewalks, it is always full. And inspectors, they don't walk through the street. They always stand like on standby, on the Plaza 16 and 24."

It’s true that there are still people vending on Mission Street. They’re just not directly outside of the BART stations. In between 23rd and 24th Street on Mission, a vendor named Estrella sells makeup out of a suitcase.

"Necesitamos para comer, y no podemos estar en la casa sin comida, sin pagar la luz, la agua, la renta."

She says she needs to pay her rent, buy food and keep the lights on. And there aren’t enough customers in the spots the city has provided to keep those bills paid.

But, for the foreseeable future, the ban will stay in effect, which means at least some vendors will be at 2135 Mission Street.

Wren Farrell (he/him) is a writer, producer and journalist living in San Francisco.