SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) – Thousands of tourists returned to San Francisco this Memorial Day weekend. Some of the hotspots were Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39, where it was difficult to walk down the street without bumping into people.
“The crowds are way bigger than I thought,” said Jeff Hill, who was visiting town from Chico.
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It was a good sign for dealers in the area after a year of lockdown. The problem was a thriving, unlicensed market on the quayside that drew many tourists away from legitimate, brick and mortar vendors.
Carlos Salazar runs a juice shop called Mango Crazy. He said it was a double blow: first the pandemic and now the illegal sellers. He said they were struggling with expensive rents and utilities.
“(The street vendors) take 60% or 65% of the sales from us,” Salazar said.
In the unlicensed street market, visitors spent money on clothes, jewelry, and even alcohol. About half a dozen tents sold shots, cocktails, and beers.
“There’s no ID check, so a minor can literally come by and buy alcohol. Alcohol is a new factor, they took it to the next level, ”said Randall Scott, executive director of the Fisherman’s Wharf Community Benefit District, which represents about 300 merchants.
Scott has been battling the problem for two years, but the problem has escalated over the past few months. Aside from the alcohol, grocery vendors were cooking with propane tanks and there was no place for them to wash their hands.
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“One has to comply with all health and safety regulations, the other not. I would call it a bad business practice, ”said Scott.
The business owners complained to the city and state, but a 2018 Senate Act 946 prevents the Port of San Francisco from criminalizing these vendors along the waterfront.
The port’s communications director Randy Quezada said they had provided educational, warning and multilingual leaflets to the sellers, but the sellers continue to ignore the port’s request to leave the country.
Supervisor Aaron Peskin passed legislation last week to launch a pilot program to allow and regulate street vendors on the port area. Mayor London Breed’s office told KPIX that the Mayor will be working with Supervisor Peskin to resolve the issue quickly.
If regulators approve the pilot program, the program will not allow vendors to sell food or alcohol.
Many of the providers don’t speak English. Some were made redundant during the pandemic. They said they were trying to survive like everyone else.
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“It’s a sign of the times, isn’t it? The shops over there are closed, ”said Leasa Hill, who was visiting from Chico and buying drinks from the street vendors. “We have this market over here. That’s what I really love – I love the farmers market environment. ”