As I shared last week, I have been working on the Street Vendor Study as a part of my internship with Think!Chinatown. I have continued walking the streets of Chinatown almost everyday to collect my observations. I should have clarified last week that with my map, I am tackling the streets first by doing all the vertical ones and then approaching the horizontal streets.
Forsyth Plaza Street Vendor Study
This week, I finished covering every corridor of Chinatown needed for the study. My last stop and part of Chinatown that I had to thoroughly examine was Forsyth Street. Forsyth Street is the location of a high concentration of street vendors in Chinatown. It is the street located right off of the exit of the Manhattan Bridge. When I first got to Forsyth Street, I walked down it and tried to count how many vendors there were. The street was crowded and packed with vendors who crammed their tables and ground displays right next to each other.
I have passed this street multiple times in my life but usually just when I am in the car and we are driving by, never walking in this area. I asked my family recently who frequently buy groceries in Chinatown why they don’t frequent this street which always has a bustle of more than thirty vendors selling at once. Like the general consensus that’s held about street vendors, my family doesn’t like to buy from these vendors because of the fact the produce is right next to the bridge.
The misconception of street vendors causing streets “to be congested, dirty, and unsanitary” is a popular notion and its negative association are explained by Valerie Imbruce in From Farm to Canal Street. In this book, she has a section devoted to discussing the importance of street vending in Chinatown. She discusses how their produce serves the community and how Chinatown’s food system is a part of a unique wide network of food marketing. Reading her book has allowed me to get a deeper understanding of the street vending businesses and the food system in Chinatown. It has challenged me during my observations to see if the things she pointed out about the trends and historic preconceptions of street vendors are true.
From spending over an hour marking each of these businesses down on this street and observing what they sold and the flow of customers they received, I saw how street vending is considered under the radar and not always taken as seriously or given the same level of respect as real businesses. Part of understanding a community’s struggle is to see with my own eyes what their business is like, what they have to offer, and now hearing the perspectives of vendors.
Next week, I will continue to share what I have learned from Imbruce’s book but also look into the historical struggles and aspects of businesses in Chinatown.