Unlicensed Mission Street vendors who became the focus of complaints from neighbors last year have moved to a newly organized and permitted flea market on Julian Street.
The San Francisco Examiner reported last year that complaints about sidewalk obstruction, trash and alleged stolen goods dogged an unpermitted flea market that drew dozens of vendors to the block of Mission Street between 14th and 15th streets every weekend. The pressure from neighbors prompted police to crack down and issue citations to some of the vendors.
But after nearly a year of community outreach and some delays due to bad weather, the new market, officially dubbed “La Pulguita,” celebrated its soft launch last Saturday on a block of Julian Street, which runs parallel to Mission Street, between 14th and 15th streets.
There, La Pulguita has been given a permit to legally operate for one month as a trial run.
The pilot program is the result of advocacy from community members and city leaders who called for the vendors — many of whom are low-income or immigrants — to be given an opportunity to legitimize their hustle, which in an increasingly gentrifying and unaffordable neighborhood serves as a lifeline to many.
Representatives from Supervisor Hillary Ronen’s office spent close to a year conducting outreach to come up with a equity-driven solution that would appease opponents and keep the vendors in the neighborhood. They ultimately secured some $50,000 in funding to extend the pilot for another eight months, if all goes as planned.
Carolina Morales, Ronen’s legislative aide, said that the office has met with surrounding neighbors on multiple occasions and spearheaded correspondence with city departments for nearly a year to secure permits, including from the Department of Public Works, the Fire Department and the Police Department, to ensure that “we have a very safe market.”
“It has a different energy to it,” said Morales, adding that vendors who were previously selling their wares from blankets spread out on the busy Mission Street sidewalk are now equipped with tables and significantly more space.
While most vendors relocated voluntarily, Morales pointed out that “the police will continue doing the work they have been doing” and issue citations to those who choose not to participate.
“They have not stopped having a beat on Mission Street and coming every couple of hours to ask people to move,” said Morales, adding that participating in La Pulguita is “easier for everybody involved.”
Ronen called the police enforcement, often triggered by neighbors’ complaints, a “cat and mouse game.”
“We really tried to find space and dignified circumstances under which these vendors could legally sell their goods and do so without being criminalized,” she said. “I am hopeful that this is the much more positive model — one that uses a lot less city resources on a crime that is not very serious.”
The ultimate goal is to make La Pulguita permanent under the supervision of Arriba Juntos, an employment and job training nonprofit at 1850 Mission St. that also manages a permitted flea market in its parking lot each weekend.
That program employs monitors to ensure participants’ safety, and at least one Arriba Juntos monitor will take on the supervisorial duties for La Pulguita.
On Saturday, Public Works crews power washed the road and sidewalk along the block of Julian Street where La Pulguita later set up. Volunteers with United to Save the Mission worked throughout the morning to help relocate vendors from Mission Street into the permitted spaces.
Initial plans called for permits for 54 vendors to operate on Julian Street. On Saturday, some 38 badges were available to interested vendors, according to Kelly Hill, a volunteer with United to Save the Mission.
An application for a peddler’s license with The City costs between $300 and $500, depending on the type of license, and comes with an annual renewal fee. La Pulguita’s vendors were not charged for the permits.
“So far the feedback has been really good. Almost everybody said that this is a much safer space — everybody has been kind of traumatized by the people calling the police in the past and this will be a safe space for that,” said Hill.
Those who agreed to move echoed that sentiment.
“If feels safer. You don’t have to pick up when the police keep coming by every time,” said a vendor who gave her name as Myana.
Myana said that she has been selling goods on Mission street alongside her husband for years.
“I hope it gets extended,” she said. “We do this every weekend if the weather is good.”
Mission Street vendor Yolanda Valdes, who has lived on 14th Street for over 40 years, said that the clothes and shoes she sells out of her closet at La Pulguita help her pay her rent.
“I wanted to join the Arriba Juntos flea market but there was no space. So this is very convenient for me,” said Valdes. “I make a little money, but it helps us.”
Her son, Roger Valdes, said that he is hopeful that La Pulguita will work out, but wondered if complaints from neighbors living in a condominium apartment building next to it would soon start trickling in.
“There used to be a lot of vendors in the Mission. Spaces like this aren’t really welcomed anymore, or they won’t be very soon. But it is a public sidewalk,” he said. “ I think it’s doing a good thing for the neighborhood and I hope it will bring life back to the Mission.”