I spent some time yesterday with a legendary street vendor.
Ramiro — don’t know his last name — spent 15 years as a street vendor before moving to an established shop a month ago. He’s from San Andres Yaa in the Sierra Juarez in Oaxaca.
In the neighborhood west of MacArthur Park, he was famous for his raspados — shaved ice, snow cones essentially, though with amazing flavors added, such as mango, coconut, cucumber, various chile powders. (During colder weather, he sold steamed corn. Made it all in his house.)
People would form lines for his raspados and some got his cellphone number so they could find him each day. But the police have been tougher on street vendors lately, so he rented a shop and is easy to find, in his business at James Woods Boulevard and Westmoreland Avenue.
However, he shows signs of not really having left the street behind. When I visited, he did almost everything — just as I imagine he did on the street — while his wife and two employees stood around and watched the maestro at work.
The world of street vendors in LA is now deep and rich — with must be thousands of people making their living this way: selling sodas, fruit, corn, Popsicles, hot dogs, candy, and more. A robust informal economic ecosystem with direct roots in Mexico and Central America.
Quite controversial, too, as tax-paying, rent-paying merchants see no reason why they should have to compete with others who don’t. The health department, too, has issues with the way a lot of the food is prepared and stored.