Over 100 Latino Street Vendors Left in Uncertainty After NELA Councilmember Cedillo Shuts Down Avenue 26 Night Market Without Notice
11:17 AM PDT on August 6, 2021
[dropcap size=big]Y[/dropcap]esterday, over 100 street vendors were left in limbo after the city shut down Lincoln Heights viral food hub Avenue 26 night market.
The news of the closure comes as a shock and surprise to street vendors who said they were given no warning leading up to the shutdown. Reports of cement boulders and fences being drilled to the ground on Artesian Street came in as early as 11 AM. on Thursday. If you were casually passing by that morning, you’d think they were blocking off the entire street for construction.
“We were in shock and are worried because a lot of families like us depend on selling at this market,” said street vendor Lesley Analco.
Analco runs a food stand with her family at Avenue 26 called El Paladar, where they sell burgers, hot dogs, aguas frescas, mulitas, and more. She said it was through word of mouth between vendors that she found out about the fences. The closure has left them and other vendors scrambling to find another place to sell.
“We’re going to have to figure out where we need to post up, me, and my mom rely on this as additional income. You know, living in Los Angeles is expensive, and this business has helped us stay afloat,” said Luis of Carnitas Alto Estilo.
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In Analco’s case, her family street vends full-time. She said her family was frustrated with the news because they had already bought their mercancia (their products), meats, plates, and everything in preparation for their weekend sales. The closure now poses a colossal loss for vendors who won’t find a place in time to sell. “What are they supposed to do now?” she said. “We personally buy $600 of products every day we sell. That’s a big loss for us who prepare days before. A warning would have been helpful.”
The Lincoln Heights resident said that the same neighbors mentioned in the LA Times article were a “small but very vocal” group and did not represent the entire neighborhood.
The news of the closure comes just two days after an LA Times op-ed called for the closure of the famous food market. Following the op-ed and closure councilmember, Gil Cedillo, who presides over Avenue 26’s district, disclosed in a press release that the closure was due to illegal alcohol sales, public defecation, urination, crime, and violence that he said was caused by the market.
He stated: “We support the economic opportunity that night markets provide to vendors and the culinary experiences it provides to consumers. However, it is unacceptable the way this site has negatively impacted the quality of life of Lincoln Heights residents and businesses...Our duty is to maintain clean, safe, and secure neighborhoods.”
Although some residents and businesses are said to have complained about the night market in recent weeks, some residents like Taylor (who preferred not to give his last name) who live one block away from Avenue 26 said he wasn’t against it. He said most of the complaints he’s heard of could have been fixed, with more communication being that most were noise complaints, according to him.
CEO of Amped Kitchens, Mott Smith, whose business is across the street from Avenue 26, called the entire situation “unfortunate” and took to Twitter to take a stand.
“It was one of the nice things about living here. It was obnoxious having hundreds of people coming through, but that’s what you deal with when you live in a cool place,” said Taylor, who described the location of Avenue 26 as the best place for street vendor markets to set up. “And it’s only a couple of nights a week, and I think, it’s one of those things that like if you live downtown or anywhere like this, you're going to get that (referring to the market). It's part of the city.” He stood and confronted the workers as they built the barricade.
The Lincoln Heights resident said that the same neighbors mentioned in the LA Times article were a “small but very vocal” group and did not represent the entire neighborhood. According to him, most neighbor complaints were about loud music, and the vendors listened to residents’ complaints regarding loud music and lowered their music in the last couple of weeks.
CEO of Amped Kitchens, Mott Smith, whose business is across the street from Avenue 26, called the entire situation “unfortunate” and took to Twitter to take a stand. He said in part he understands the city and other brick and mortar businesses and residents’ complaints regarding trash. Still, he feels there could have been a different way to go about regulating the market. Analco said vendors have been trying to work on by hiring someone to clean and by renting portable restrooms.
While organization and leadership within such a large street food vendor gathering are difficult, other sprawling street vendor open-air markets like Patata Street in Cudahy have shown that it is possible. In their case, some of the first vendors started WhatsApp message threads and mandated a weekly “cleaning fee” to be collected by every participating street vendor. That level of organization has helped the SELA-based street food gathering be prepared when they are shut down by opening direct communication lines with Cudahy’s vice mayor.
“I think this is all part of a larger conversation about how we facilitate micro-business like street vendors and help them operate legally instead of just shutting them down,” he said.
“A lot of families rely on Avenue 26 and it’s really sad what happened but we are staying positive, we don’t know if we will be able to go back but like my mom said this door may have closed but another one will open. We always find a way.”
Avenue 26 being forcibly shut down by the city is history repeating itself. In 2009, police-escorted County workers shut down Boyle Heights’ once-thriving “Breed Street Market.” Same with MacArthur Park’s resilient street vendor-lined perimeter that gets raided by police periodically; as recent as a month ago. MacArthur Park also sits in Cedillo's district and he has been criticized for not doing much about that much older street vending gathering. L.A. TACO has covered the traumatizing effects felt by street vendors after being physically shut down by armed police officers for selling tacos and hot dogs. Despite Los Angeles “legalizing” street food in January of 2020, street vendors feel that nothing much has changed.
Cesar, the pioneering head taquero behind the famous Avenue 26 tacos that started the entire market, said he thinks the street market went downhill after it went viral on TikTok. He said people thought the attention would bring them more money, but it only brought more food vendors who he said were hoping to find a spot there to sell due to the high foot traffic. In this case, it did the opposite: he said “quemaron el lugar,” “they burned the place” by exposing it so much. He describes Avenue 26 before TikTok as having more space, saying he even had parking for his customers, unlike now, where parking is extremely overcrowded. Still, the closure is a big hit for him and his business.
“Twenty families depend on this stand-alone, and I imagine it’s the same for other street vendors,” he said. “For us, it does affect us because aquí crecimos, we started here; it’s sad.”
He feels resigned, saying nothing will be resolved until every vendor has a permit, a task that he knows most food vendors won’t meet due to the health department’s strict requirements. Despite the city finally approving the first-ever “legal” tamal cart, high fees, language barriers, and bureaucracy stand in the way of the thousands of street vendors who depend on street vending as their primary source of income.
Vendors like Analco said they recognize that Avenue 26 has grown way beyond anything they ever imagined, but they feel like they can only control so much. She and other vendors like Cesar have tried meeting with Cedillo in the past, and according to Cesar, he asked his office two months ago to warn them if they planned on doing something like this. “We never got a response,” he said.
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In response to the closure, street vendors organized to protest at Avenue 26 last night. Today, they also organized a second protest at 10 AM outside Cedillo’s office. The demonstrations are historic, considering that street vendors often move to a different area when they are shut down. Still, in Avenue 26’s case, the amount of vendors impacted is too large to ignore. Vendors like Cesar from Avenue 26 tacos said although their iconic location will be closed, they hope people will still visit them in Little Tokyo and Eagle Rock. Analco and other vendors said they will be trying to relocate near Avenue 26 while waiting for a solution. And said she hopes people will continue to support the vendors who made Avenue 26 what it was.
“No matter what happens, Avenue 26 represents a source of income for my family and many undocumented people who are part of this community,” she said. “Avenue was a support in the unexpected time of COVID since we did not have resources to sustain ourselves.”
As L.A. TACO monitored the workers contracted by Cedillo building the barricades and makeshift chain-linked fence on both sides of Artesian Street, a daytime street vendor selling open-fire pollos asados openly sold juicy, charred chicken to hungry customers a block away, showing the arbitrary and inconsistent regulation of street vending in Los Angeles.
Like that pollo asado stand, L.A. TACO was able to confirm with some Avenue 26 street vendors that they will be setting up further up and down the street or the next block over.
“A lot of families rely on Avenue 26 and it’s really sad what happened but we are staying positive, we don’t know if we will be able to go back but like my mom said this door may have closed but another one will open. We always find a way,” said Luis.
After a dozen vendors met to protest at Cedillo's office, L.A. TACO has confirmed that will be meeting with the vendors at 1:30 PM.
L.A. TACO will update this story as it develops.
Javier Cabral contributed to this report.
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