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Longtime Street Vendor Forced To Shut Down, Outraging Southwest Side Activists, Residents

The vendor has sold Mexican ice cream at 56th Street and Kedzie Avenue in Gage Park for more than 12 years — but now she's been booted from the ward.

Community organizers gathered for a press conference in Gage Park Thursday.
Juan Jose Ayala Jr./Provided
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GAGE PARK — A longtime street vendor in Gage Park said a Chicago Police officer forced her to stop selling Wednesday and the alderman’s office dismissed her concerns, angering community residents and activists.

The vendor, who asked not to be named, has sold Mexican ice cream at 56th Street and Kedzie Avenue in Gage Park for more than 12 years, according to community members. At a press conference Thursday, she said a police officer approached her and ordered her to shut down her operations earlier this week.

Berto Aguayo, an activist and co-founder of the Increase the Peace Initiative, one of the groups who hosted the press conference, said a white police officer handed the vendor a copy of a 2016 ordinance outlawing “peddlers” in the 14th Ward that Ald. Edward Burke is enforcing. The officer told the vendor — who said she has permission to sell on the street — that if she did not stop selling, she would be arrested or ticketed, according to organizers.

After the vendor spoke to the police officer, she went to the alderman’s office, where organizers said a staff member dismissed her and said street vendors were not welcome in the 14th Ward.

Burke’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Aguayo said the vendor contacted Increase the Peace after the incident because she was a part of their vendor relief program, which gave assistance to street vendors during the pandemic. He said organizers were angry the city would begin enforcing this ordinance to “target people who are just trying to make a living” during a pandemic and a time of intense violence.

Street vendors have been hit particularly bad by the pandemic, advocates have previously noted, because their businesses has fallen dramatically and many are undocumented, which means they’re not eligible for federal aid.

“She has a permit, she has everything, she’s doing everything by the book, and she didn’t know where to go,” Aguayo said. “She called our volunteer that had handed her the check, explained the situation, and we were livid.

“It’s ridiculous that during a pandemic, instead of police officers doing what they’re supposed to be doing, they’re attacking the most vulnerable people in our communities, our street vendors.”

A Chicago Police spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement the department was responding to “complaints” regarding the vendor and the officer informed the vendor about the ordinance prohibiting street peddling but “did not write any citations.”

Still, Aguayo said this was the first time the vendor was ever asked to shut down her operation in her many years of selling.

Community members gathered for the press conference Thursday to raise awareness of the issue, call on Burke to stop “targeting” street vendors with the ordinance, and urge other neighborhood residents to support the vendor.

Jesus Hidalgo, a youth organizer with Increase the Peace, grew up in Gage Park and said street vendors are an important part of Mexican and Latino culture and the neighborhood. He said Burke should make a commitment to local vendors by repealing the ordinance.

“Families are just trying to provide for their children, and then you have police officers coming to harass well-known community members that have always been there,” he said.

Aguayo said Burke is “so disconnected from the community he represents” and this incident is an example of his relationship with the neighborhood.

“I hate bullies, and I think what CPD and the alderman’s office did yesterday, they’re bullying some of the most vulnerable members in our community when they should be focused on all the violence that we’re seeing in our communities and all the other problems we have in our city right now,” he said. “Instead of helping, they’re attacking our people.”

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