This week I began my observational study of street vendors in Manhattan’s Chinatown.
First, I must share with you all what the definition of a street vendor is. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it is defined as “someone who sells food or other goods in the street, sometimes illegally.”
When getting the hang of making sure I didn’t miscount the street vendors I did, I initially started working through the streets and observing with the guidance of my on site mentor, Alice Liu. Then after observing some streets, I approached this study by myself. I started walking the streets of Chinatown, tallying every vendor I saw and inputting my observations into a Google Form.
Some vendors I observed sold goods from belts around their bodies while others had carts and tables. It never crossed my mind that these vendors that were not brick and mortar businesses sold so many different products and had a steady amount of customers. The vendors varied from plant sellers to vegetable vendors to more. So far from this week alone, I have filled out over 80 surveys with a few more streets left to finish up next week. In these inventory forms, I mark the types of equipment they use, identify what the vendors are studying, and identify if the vendors sell the same goods as that offered on the street.
Street vendors play a unique role in Chinatown’s landscape and community. The produce vendors offer affordable and fresh access to fruits and vegetables. The numerous counterfeit product sellers draw in tourists from all over. Street vending has been synonymous to the services, perception, and understanding of the neighborhood.
To get a better understanding of existing knowledge and of the food system in Chinatown, I am reading From Farm to Canal Street. I will include in next week’s blog post some of the things I learn from that research book and how it expands my understanding of Chinatown’s businesses, community, and presence.
It was a hopeful sight to see many of these vendors have bustling business. My time observing has made me have a better understanding of Chinatown’s business landscape. But to answer my question of what factors are responsible for the decline of Chinatown’s businesses, I need to hear from the vendors. The next part of my work with Think!Chinatown entails talking with the street vendors. I look forward to writing about that for next week! Thanks for reading!