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Street Retail II

Charlotte Street and environs has become famous (or infamous, as dependent on perspective) for its vigourous level of trade by street merchants.

It is a hot day. As local, Christmas songs fill the air—and even amidst Trinidad and Tobago’s recession—economic activity bustles here, with a seemingly endless supply of customers teaming through the streets, weaving between variety stores and the scores of innovated stalls set up by street vendors. It is private enterprise on its simplest level.

Some argue that street vending represents a bias toward ‘freeness’ and agree with Port of Spain Mayor, Raymond Tim Kee’s, views that street vending is problematic because it opposes the written rules of the town. However the recurrence of street vending, even as many past mayors have attempted to end the practice, seems to imply that there is a strong consumer need for the activity. It seems to be supported by ‘the will of the people‘.

Most street merchants rebuild and strike their stalls every day. With no goods stored, questions arise as to the validity of the assertion that street merchants are the cause of an alleged, rat-infestation, as described by Mayor Tim Kee.

Discussion with vendors reveals that money is actually, regularly paid to unnamed, authority figures for permission to ply their trades without disturbance. This ‘tax’ varies, depending on the size and elabouration of the merchants’ stalls. It is the belief among a few vendors that the existence of this arrangement has lead to a ‘love-hate’ relationship between Port of Spain authorities and themselves.

Ultimately, if ‘consumer sovereignty‘ is to be believed, the needs of consumers will force the persistence of street retail. Hence, if authorities are considered to be public servants rather than ‘leaders’, their roll would be to supply resources to make the practice safer, healthier, and more sustainable—rather than to remove what seems to be beneficial to hundreds of people.