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Tuesday, Sep 26, 2023

Heard on the Street

Government: $500K in grants will help vendors deal with financial barriers.

Outside the parking lot of the 24-Hour Fitness on Empire Avenue in Burbank, Andrew Gallegos can be found six days a week selling cups of fruit from his cart, Mr. Fruits 818.

The 29-year-old San Fernando Valley resident said that the hardest thing about being a street vendor these days is access to a commissary, a necessity to get a permit to operate from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

“The health department will not give you a permit if you don’t have a commissary to go to,” Gallegos said. “A commissary is a must before you even apply for a permit.”

The commissary is where the fruit that Gallegos sells is cut and where his cart is washed and cleaned. 

There are commissaries in the east Valley, but they cater to food trucks. So Gallegos said he goes to one in Northridge, in the west Valley. For the crushed ice he needs to keep his fruit chilled, he goes to North Hollywood. Traveling to both places takes time and gas. 

“It is (a) hard situation for a lot of fruit vendors because gas is expensive,” Gallegos explained. “With the little money that we do make we try to come out here and provide for everybody who is in need of fruit.”

Gallegos has taken advantage of the services offered by Initiating Change in Our Neighborhoods Community Development Corp., or ICON CDC. The nonprofit, which has offices in Pacoima and Van Nuys, is currently assisting Gallegos in getting his DBA, a “doing business as” designation. 

Last month, it was announced that ICON would receive $500,000 in state funding to provide microgrants to street vendors, as well as for entrepreneurial training.

The money, which comes from the Social Entrepreneurs for Economic Development (SEED) program of the California Employment Training Panel, is meant to help the entrepreneurship of immigrants and individuals with limited English language skills who face significant employment barriers. The program will also increase the state’s economic diversity and help spur business innovation, according to a release from ICON.

By promoting entrepreneurship of individuals who may be precluded, because of legal impediments or otherwise, from obtaining gainful employment, SEED supports pathways to economic self-sufficiency and increased economic contributions to the state and local economies, the release said.

State Senate Majority Leader Emeritus Bob Hertzberg said he appreciated ICON’s long history of supporting small Valley business owners. 

“They have the experience, and local vendors trust them to run this program,” Hertzberg said in a statement.

Vendors like Jorge Hernandez.

Hernandez currently operates a street vending cart selling sandwiches in Van Nuys and Pacoima that are native to his hometown of Jalisco, Mexico. Traditionally made on small loaves of baguette, the bread is toasted in a panini grill after being drenched in a spicy sauce and topped off with Mexican crème. It is then filled with pork, including pork loin or pulled pork, Hernandez said through an interpreter, Elizabeth Padilla, a project manager at ICON. 

“I am adapting to also offer (a) veggie option or other types of meat, like chicken,” Hernandez said.

Like Gallegos, Hernandez has also taken advantage of ICON services, including business classes. 

There were many things he was not aware of until he started the ICON programs. He then realized that there was a lot of free information being offered, Hernandez said.

“Thanks to the program I am able to advance in my project and benefitted from all the classes that I took, and all the training, and I hope to establish legally soon,” he said.

Hernandez added that he had already received some of the permits that are easier to obtain, like a city of Los Angeles business license, a state seller’s permit and a food handler’s permit.

“I am working on getting an approved food truck permit if I can get the funding, and then finally get my health department permit (from the county),” Hernandez said, through Padilla.  

According to a post by the Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign at the LA2050 website from September 2019, there were some 50,000 street vendors in the city representing a $504 million industry. 

“Approximately 80% of street vendors are women of color who contribute to the rich, diverse street food landscape through the informal economy — and when allowed to do their work legally and safely — contribute to the vitality of their neighborhoods and LA as a whole,” the post read. 

In November 2018, the Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance making street vending legal in the city. 

“With legalization, we can expect to see these numbers (50,000 vendors) grow as street vending becomes a safer way to make a living — especially for women and people of color,” the street vendor campaign post said. 

Partner groups

Two of the core partners of the street vendors campaign – Public Counsel, a pro-bono legal clinic, and East L.A. Community Corp. – were among four Los Angeles nonprofits receiving funding from JPMorgan Chase & Co. in June to assist vendors.

The New York financial institution is committing $5 million over three years to the Open Air Economy Collaborative, which includes nonprofits Inclusive Action for the City, California Reinvestment Coalition, as well as Public Counsel, and East L.A. Community Corp. 

Sarah Bowles, a vice president for global philanthropy for Chase, said that the ultimate goal is to help street vendors become legal participants of the local economy.

“They generate tremendous economic activity in L.A.; however, there have been a number of systemic barriers that have kept them from fully participating and being fully incorporated into the formal economy,” Bowles said. 

One of the barriers that vendors have to overcome is a permitting process that is complicated and expensive.

“The number I saw is that they can spend on average $30,000 for permits and equipment, which for a small micro-business just starting out is a pretty substantial start-up cost,” Bowles said. 

In addition, many of the forms that vendors must complete to obtain licenses and other permits are not available translated into languages other than English, Spanish, and a few others. 

“Primarily they are in English and so there are language barriers that also exist,” Bowles said. 

“It continues to be a complex process to navigate,” she continued. “There is movement at the state and county levels to streamline the processes, but there is more work to be done.”

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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