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Street vendors in Mexico City

The presence of street vendors in Mexico City dates back to the pre-Hispanic era. Prior to the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, commercial activity primarily took place in the “tianguis” or marketplaces.

In New Spain, outside of the controlled mercado or market on the Zócalo and other squares, street vendors emerged, then called “buhoneros.” Efforts to control street vendors date back to at least 1541 when the city government prohibited itinerant vendors.

The 1970s and 1980s saw huge growth in the number of vendors.

In 1993, the first of several major efforts (each only partially successful) to reduce street vending in the Historic Center of Mexico City began, with the removal of about 10,000 vendors from the streets and the construction of markets to accommodate them.

The aim was also to subject them to tax codes, health regulations, and other formal requirements.

However, street vending continued to grow, and efforts to remove the vendors eventually failed as they returned to the streets.

During the 1990s and 2000s, street vendors paid union leaders “dues” in exchange for the right to occupy a piece of sidewalk without city permission, an illegal act. The unions, in turn, bribed and lobbied city officials to allow the vendors to stay.

In 2003, it was estimated that there were almost 200,000 street vendors in Mexico City.

Over the centuries, the Mexican government has struggled to control street vending. In October 2007, the streets of the Historic Center were cleared of vendors. Despite this, there is still a persistent presence of many thousands illegally.

However, “toreros” continue to be active in the area – individuals who sell merchandise from a tarp on the ground, which can quickly convert into a bag, allowing them to carry away their goods when the police arrive to clear out illegal street vendors.

Vendors selling from stalls may be organized into several formats:

Tianguis and mobile markets: These markets operate in designated places on specific days of the week, following a fixed schedule, and are supervised by city inspectors to ensure compliance with weights and measurements.

These markets are part of the strategy for the supply and distribution of food staples within the city.

Concentrations: These are areas where vendors sell from stalls, but they are not officially organized. They often specialize in certain types of products, such as imported illegal merchandise, particularly electronics, auto parts, tools, clothing, etc.

Although in many cases, those selling from stalls are not truly itinerant (“ambulante”), they are still referred to as “ambulantes.” Concentrations of stalls can also be found at metro station entrances, near hospital entrances, etc.

Bazaars (“plazas comerciales”): These are places where vendors of a certain “theme” (stationary) are housed. Originally, these bazaars were organized to accommodate vendors who used to sell on the street.

Individual or small groups of stalls on any given city sidewalk.

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