What is a Street Vendor?
Street vendors are businesspeople who sell their wares in the open air rather than in a shop or store. In many cases, the vendor either has a small stand that can be secured when not in operation, or makes use of a cart that can be removed from the street at the end of the business day. Sometimes referred to as a peddler, this type of vendor is commonly found in metropolitan areas, outdoor conventions and events, and sometimes at public beaches.
As with any type of business operation, a street vendor must obtain a business license in order to sell to the general public. In order to secure a vendor's license, the businessperson usually must comply with standards that would also apply if the business was operating indoors. For example, a vendor selling hot dogs on a street corner would still be held responsible for maintaining health code standards that would apply to any bar and grill that sold hot dogs.
Periodic inspections by health examiners are generally conducted to make sure the street vendor remains in compliance with current regulations. If the vendor is found to be in violation, there may be a fine and a warning issued. Should the infractions not be corrected within a reasonable period of time, the vendor's permit can be revoked.
Street vending can involve the sale of a number of different products. Street food vendors may offer commercially packaged snack items such as candy bars and bags of potato chips. Street vendor food can also include hot dogs, sausages, fish and chips, chicken tenders, and many other foods that can be acquired and eaten while on the go. In most cases, street vending businesses of this type operate with the use of a cart that is mounted on wheels. At the end of the day, the street vendor carts can be stored in a secure indoor location, then prepared for use the following business day.
A street vendor may also sell items that have nothing to do with food. Newspapers and magazines may be sold from a cart parked on a city street. Souvenirs or items such as sunscreen and sunglasses may be sold through street vending near a public beach.
In some cultures, street vending is just as common as indoor retailing. While many locations impose strict regulations on any type of street vending activity, there may be little to no government monitoring on the operation of the business or the quality of items sold. However, countries such as Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, and the United States tend to have exacting requirements that all street vendors must follow in order to keep their businesses open.
@Iluviaporos - Actually, I think this applies to street vendors all over the world, even hot dog street vendors in New York (perhaps especially them!). No matter how rigidly they have been checked by food authorities, I'm sure there are some days when the guy just doesn't wash his hands after handling money, for example.
Whenever you've got one person doing every job in selling food, you're going to end up with risky behavior.
But there are some amazing street vendors out there. And not just food, there are some great craftspeople and artists who have realized they can make a living in a little cart on a busy street. It adds color and life to a city and I wouldn't have it any other way.
@clintflint - The problem is that it's very difficult to make sure that you aren't going to get food poisoning, even if you take all the precautions in the world. Even if they cook the food right in front of you and you're sure it's been cooked thoroughly, you might still end up getting bacteria from the hands of the person making it, or from water used to wash the plates they give you.
It depends on what you want your experience to be. Some people might be happy to risk the chance of illness for the experience and that's fine. But there is definitely a risk and people should realize that.
If you are traveling overseas you might be warned not to eat from street vendors, but to not do so would be a mistake, in my opinion. It's easy enough to make sure that the food is safe and often it's the genuine article, the same kind of local food that all the locals prefer to eat, rather than the glamorized version you find in a restaurant.
Plus there is nothing to compare to the experience of sitting down outside in a night market, watching people wandering around and waiting for your meal to be cooked on a charcoal burner, right in front of you. It ensures your money is going to local people as well. My experiences with African and Mexican street vendors (the two places I've done this) have been nothing but positive.
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