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‘This Market Needs to Survive’

Vancouver will close a sanctioned spot for street vending in the Downtown Eastside. Expect ‘a gong show,’ say critics of the decision.

Jen St. Denis 5 Jul 2023The Tyee

Jen St. Denis is a reporter with The Tyee covering civic issues. Find her on Twitter @JenStDen.

Its future has been uncertain for years, but Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside Street Market is facing what could be its final deadline at the end of the summer.

Staff have been told the market, currently located in a vacant lot near Hastings and Carrall streets, will have to move at the end of August. The city does not have an alternate space for the sanctioned vending area.

At the same time, the city has told community groups that city engineering staff and police will be stepping up enforcement of bylaws that prohibit selling on the sidewalk.

“This market needs to survive, or else things will escalate and it will be a gong show again,” said Brent Skorobohach, a market staffer who was working at the market on Tuesday.

“These people are going to vend one way or another, be it in here or out on the street.”

Community groups say the plan appears to be similar to the city’s decision to clear the Hastings Street tent encampment in April. That enforcement action happened despite city officials knowing there weren’t enough shelter spots for people to go to.

“If the VPD and the city clear off all the vending the way they cleared the encampment, it doesn’t help anything, it actually creates more harm,” said Michelle Lackie, the executive director of Exchange Inner City. The non-profit supports economic development in the neighbourhood.

The Downtown Eastside Street Market has been moved from empty lot to empty lot over the past three years. During that time, the market has weathered complaints that stolen goods are sold there: after a 2021 investigation, police said organized crime had infiltrated the street vending scene and marginalized people were being recruited to shoplift goods.

The Binners’ Project currently holds a city contract to help manage the market. Sean Miles, the project’s director, said the market has a long list of prohibited items to prevent the sale of stolen goods. Clothing with retail tags, power tools, bikes and bike parts are on that list.

“There have been times where organized and co-ordinated selling of stolen goods have happened in the market,” Miles said. “But the VPD have addressed those issues and that isn't something that is currently a concern that we've seen or heard about.”

Dismantling a piece of community

On Tuesday morning, Dani Schroyen was standing among her belongings on the sidewalk near the market. City workers wearing orange jumpsuits were using pitchforks to clear the sidewalk of debris. It’s a familiar sight in the neighbourhood, where city workers, accompanied by police, do “street sweeps” daily to keep the sidewalks clear.

851px version of DaniSchroyen.jpg
Dani Schroyen stands on East Hastings Street after being told to move her belongings during the daily street sweeps on July 4. Photo by Jen St. Denis.

In the process, homeless people repeatedly lose their belongings.

Schroyen said she takes part in the sidewalk vending outside the official market, selling items she finds at garage sales. She said there isn’t enough room inside the market, and that she’d like to see the city offer vending licenses to allow people to sell items on the sidewalk. Schroyen suggested there could be specific times when sidewalk vending activity is allowed.

People in the neighbourhood rely on the market, Schroyen said.

The market was recently closed for two weeks after two vendors were assaulted with bear spray and other weapons on June 12. Last Friday, the market reopened with security guards in addition to the peer workers who are normally the only staff on site.

In an email, city communications staff confirmed the market’s lease is up at the end of August and there are no other publicly owned spaces nearby. City staff are still working to find an alternate location, but “currently do not foresee a viable location.”

Wherever the market is located, vendors tend to gather on the sidewalk outside to also hawk their wares. Market supporters say both the market and the sidewalk vending that happens outside of the official market play an important part in the neighbourhood.

“Sometimes they’re looking for a flower vase, they need it for a gift. Colouring books. Food items. That’s what the vendors are selling,” Schroyen said.

“It should be there for everyone — we should all be treated equally.”  [Tyee]

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