Over the weekend, I spent time at Westmoreland and Francis avenues, a few blocks west of MacArthur Park, where on Saturday and Sunday a kind of street-vendor mall spontaneously pops up.
On a couple blocks, vendors crowd together, looking for all the world like some street in Mexico City, and selling toothbrushes, electric hair curlers, bleach, boots, DVDs, tools, laptops, cellphones, clothes of all kinds. Each vendor has a little space – first come, first served, I take it.
I met Roberto Chavez, from Honduras, who owned a hardware store at 6th and Union for 10 years until Home Depot and 99-cents stores moved in and crushed him.
“Since then, I’ve been on the streets” selling wallets and ladies purses lately at the Roadium Open Air Market swap meet.
Chavez said his father was a journalist and died when Chavez was 5. His mother cooked at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, he said. Chavez said he came here more than 30 years ago.
Street vending is part of the economy that L.A. cannot do without, he said, because it helps keep its cheap labor force here.
“People just try to survive here,” he said, looking at the vendors that surrounded us. “Nobody’s making money.” Most folks have full-time jobs and come here to sell on weekends to make ends meet. Otherwise, he said, they’d have to return home. It’s too expensive to be poor here, with cars, rent ($700 for a miserable single apartment that he has to share to afford, he said).
“You can measure the economy here,” he said. “We’re like cockroaches. We’re surviving.”