Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions. 


Wednesday, December 1

Gapers Block

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr

« Friday Foodporn: Brunch Chef Week: Big Jones »

Feature Fri Mar 19 2010

Chicago's Latino Street Vendors Look for Justice

[Editor's note: This article was written by freelance writers Aixa Velez and Araceli Pedroza.]

For years, street vendors in Chicago's Latino neighborhoods have fought to legalize the selling of prepared warm food.

In Chicago's Little Village neighborhood, there are more than 200 street vendors that sell their food products throughout the year on 26th Street between Kedzie and Cicero Avenues.

The Asociacion de Vendedores Ambulantes (AVA), also known as the Street Vendor Association, meets every Wednesday at noon at 2800 South Hamlin. They are currently organizing a campaign to reform the current city ordinance that states their sales are illegal. They plan to present their proposal to the city in November 2010.

"I am hopeful that the new ordinance will pass," said Augusto Aquino, director of the AVA.

The vendors are seeking licenses that will allow them to sell their prepared food from their cart. There are organizations that support the vendors in making sure they are treated fairly and have a voice when facing the city's regulations.

Aside from the AVA, another organization that helps the vendors is the Chicago Workers Collaborative. CWC officials refused comment, but according to its Web site, the collaborative's mission is to "help build the AVA's leadership so the vendors can organize to stop repressive police action and convince the city to adopt an ordinance that would enable them to obtain a license to legally prepare food."

Many vendors on the South Side sell the same products: elotes (corn); chicharrones (pork rinds) and chips.

One of the main reasons for not allowing warm food to be prepared is due to sanitary and health risks, said Efrat Stein, a spokesperson for the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Licensing.

"If health is a concern, I have never heard of anyone getting sick off of eating elotes," Aquino said.

Msalgado.jpgAccording to the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Licensing, there are currently 1,404 street vendor licenses selling in Chicago. There are two types of street vendor licenses: food and non-food.

Of all of street vendor licenses, 477 of them are food vendor licenses. In order to obtain a license, one must be at least 16 years old, show identification, such as a driver's license or photo ID, have an Illinois business tax number and must not owe any outstanding debt to the City of Chicago. Each license is good for two years and costs $165.

"This license allows fruit or vegetables to be sold that are not cut or prepared," Stein said. Many street vendors obtain the license, but still prepare and sell warm food illegally. "They may be licensed but operating outside of the requirements," Stein said.

Vendors such as Marcela Salgado make a living by selling food from her cart. Salgado and her husband work almost every afternoon and evening (about 300 days per year) at the same corner on 26th Street and Drake. They've been selling for eight years, yet still live under the fear of being harassed or fined by the city.

sweettreat.jpgIf vendors are caught violating the license's city ordinance, the fines range anywhere between $50 and $200 each time, Stein said. Stein did not have any data on how many times vendors are fined.

The city conducts frequent license checks throughout the year. When Stein receives complaints from callers, she sends one of 30 investigators to check out the street vendor.

Currently, a mobile food dispenser license allows street vendors to sell prepared foods, but only if the food was prepared in a licensed business establishment.

Street vendors said they can only hope that a new ordinance will pass in their favor, and if not, at least have a fine-free year and more cooperation from city officials.

"They (the city) have been trying to remove us (from selling) the last two years, but since we have a street vendors association, they are trying to make change in the ordinance so we can stay," Salgado said.

(More pictures here.)

This feature is supported in part by a Community News Matters grant from The Chicago Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

GB store

Mike Reilley / March 19, 2010 8:37 PM

Great job by Aixa and Araceli on a story that has been widely overlooked in mainstream media. And thanks to Gapers Block for publishing their piece!

Chas / March 20, 2010 1:23 AM

"Vendors such as Marcela Salgado make a living by selling food from her cart. Salgado and her husband work almost every afternoon and evening (about 300 days per year) at the same corner on 26th Street and Drake. They've been selling for eight years, yet still live under the fear of being harassed or fined by the city."

If it is illegal to sell warm and prepared food, why do these folks think that they are being harrassed or oppressed bythe city? We have laws and I would expect the same application of the law in Little Village as in Lincoln Park. A rogue hot dog stand outside of Little Villate wouldn't make it one week without the police and/or the health department shutting it completely down.


keith ashfield / December 12, 2010 8:41 PM

If this is such a problem, why do they issue licenses? Why not just refuse to renew their license if they receive more than 2 violations in a year (or something reasonable). Does anyone know if there were able to submit the proposal to the chi flat irons city in Nov?

Ron Salivan / January 15, 2011 3:30 AM

If we nkow that they continue selling food illegaly, why the local government doesn't want to give them a lisence. These people live from selling food. I was studying this problem in my research papers at university and can say that it will be really difficult to employ them if their business is will be closed.

patty / February 4, 2011 11:53 PM

pienso que todos tenemos derecho a sobrevivir de un modo u otro y que mejor forma de hacerlo ganandose la vida decentemente para dar una mejor educacion a nuestros hijos

Chris Stahley / June 28, 2011 9:40 PM

I will have to side with the Street Vendors. I think there would be anarchy in Philadelphia if vendors were not able to sell warm food.

The food vendors know their customers. Government should not decide on what foods to be sold even for street vendors. Yes, local government should regulate by having licenses but that is it.

GB store

Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

GB store



Drive-Thru on Flickr

Join the Drive-Thru Flickr Pool.

About Drive-Thru

Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
Please see our submission guidelines.

Editor: Robyn Nisi,
Drive-Thru staff inbox:



 Subscribe in a reader.

GB store

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15