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Number of Young Street Vendors on the Rise

Posted October. 19, 2004 23:06,   


As the depression continues, the number of street vendors is increasing sharply. In particular, the increase in street vendors using just a mat on the street, not a traditional wagon diner (a Korean style vending stall selling food from a wagon), is significant because it indicates extreme poverty. Just as worrisome, the number of youths in their 20s and 30s who are street vendors is rapidly growing.

A 60-year-old female street vendor, whose family name is Lee, has been selling sticky rice cakes on her mat laid on the street near Yeongdeungpo Market in Seoul for a year. She said, “There was no competition for a seat a year ago, but there have been frequent fights recently to occupy a better selling position.”

Cho Gi-hwa, the street environment improvement team leader at the Yeongdeungpo district office, said, “Recently, the number of entrepreneur street vendors using wagon diners has decreased, and the number of those selling on a mat laid on a street corner has increased. It is clear that these people are extremely poor and doing this as a means of living, so we are trying not to crack down them. Still, as their numbers and complaints from stores increase, we end up having to crack down on them once a while.”

More than 10 postings a day on average asking how to start a street vending business on a mat appear on internet sites for street vendors, and the hits on these postings reach several hundred.

The National Street Vendors Association estimates the number of street vendors currently in business is some two million. However, this number does not include vendors who sell from mats or cars, which makes up a significant portion of all street vendors. The total including these vendors is believed to exceed three million easily.

An official in this association said, “The number of new members has been steadily increasing, and phone inquiries have increased two to three times compared to last year.”

The number of crackdowns on street vendors has sharply increased this year. The Seoul metropolitan government reported that it issued 7,804 maintenance negligence fines or indemnities on street vendors in 2002; 9,980 in 2003; and this year, the number is already 10,582 as of the end of August. It is predicted that the number will surpass 15,000 by the end of this year.

The number of forced maintenance or shutdown citations has reached 46,284 cases this year, nearly twice last year’s number of 26,405.

Lim Seung-tae of the Street Vendor Management Team in the construction and administration department of the Seoul Metropolitan Government said, “We cracked down on about 36,000 street vendors last year, issuing negligence fines and warnings, mediating complaints, and closing down vendors. This year, the same number has already passed 40,000. In particular, a great number of unemployed young people are entering into the street vending business.”

Hong In-ok of the Korea Center of City and Environmental Research pointed out, “It is natural to see increases in the number of street vendors when the economy is not doing well as we saw right after the foreign currency crisis. Nonetheless, the increase in the number of street vendors using mats and young street vendors who are at their peak in terms of working ability is worrisome.”

Soo-Jung Shin crystal@donga.com