LOGAN SQUARE — When artist Kristiana Mitacek set up shop on Logan Boulevard near the Logan Square Farmers Market this past Sunday, she was looking forward to a day of sales.
Mitacek is part of a group of 20 or so artists and creatives who have been selling along Logan Boulevard on market days for years because of the high foot traffic. Many are unemployed, living paycheck to paycheck and relying on the cash generated from selling their creations.
But just 15 minutes after Mitacek settled in, police arrived and told her and the other unlicensed vendors in the area they had to pack up and leave. Police had received a complaint from a neighbor.
The shutdown impacted at least 20 vendors. With their unofficial market upended and other markets and craft fairs shut down amid the pandemic, several vendors said they’re worried they won’t be able to make ends meet.
“Right now, it’s a big source of my income. It’s still not a ton of money, but right now my partner is a bartender and his bar is closed so it does make a big difference,” Mitacek said.
“There’s people there who need to pay rent this week and I don’t know if they’re going to be able to.”
‘That was the one thing that was going to help me as rent is approaching’
The vendors, who sell everything from vintage clothing and accessories to handmade jewelry and art prints, were told to leave Logan Boulevard and the surrounding area around 10:30 a.m. Sunday, according to Chicago police spokesperson Kellie Bartoli.
Police had received a complaint from a person who took issue with the vendors being unlicensed, Bartoli said. The person also claimed the vendors were attracting people who weren’t wearing masks and practicing social distancing, she added.
Mitacek and other vendors dispute this. They said they were following all of the public health guidelines. So were their customers.
“If you’re selling things out on a street, you probably don’t have insurance and you probably don’t have enough money to mess around by not wearing a mask,” Mitacek said. “No one out there was a person who would risk getting sick.”
Officers told the vendors to leave within the hour or risk getting slapped with a fine. Everyone complied and no fines were issued, Bartoli said.
Vendors who wish to sell goods in the public way are required to have a permit, but a city spokesman couldn’t immediately say which permit the Logan Square vendors would need. There are several that allow for the kind of businesses Mitacek and other vendors run, he said, ranging from a special event permit to a pop-up license.
Mitacek said police officers also couldn’t tell her what permit she needed — just that she needed one.
“That’d be like busting me for a speeding ticket. Like, ‘We don’t know what the right speed is but you’re going the wrong speed,'” she said.
None of the vendors interviewed by Block Club said they have a city permit. Mitacek said she tried to get one through her alderman’s office but wasn’t able to receive any help.
But all of the vendors said they don’t blame the city or the police for the shutdown; they fault the neighbor who complained.
The vendors said the neighbor was a man who claimed to own a building along Logan Boulevard. The man went stall to stall “threatening” the vendors before flagging down a police officer driving down the street and then filing a formal complaint, according to one of the vendors who said she witnessed the encounter.
“It’s unreal to think that a thriving public community activity could be so threatening to someone,” said one local vintage seller, who declined to be named for fear her unemployment benefits could be jeopardized.
The seller said she lost out on much-needed sales because of the shutdown.
“It is my main source of income right now,” she said. “It’s been really hard for me to support myself through the pandemic and that was the one thing that was going to help me as rent is approaching.”
‘They really aren’t supposed to be there’
According to the vendors, the shutdown came after weeks of no disturbances. They said they’ve routinely sold their wares outside of the Logan Square Farmers Market without any issues.
“I’ve had multiple neighbors come up to us and say, ‘Wow, it’s so beautiful what you’re doing. This is really cool to see you all out there.’ And [they’ve been] happy to support us right now because so many of us are struggling to pay out rent,” one seller said.
Another agreed, saying, “It was a beautiful day and to have someone be upset about it was really puzzling to all of us.”
People have been selling used and vintage goods outside the market for years. Sellers may put out some books or records on a blanket while sitting with friends and farmers market patrons will walk through and buy a few things.
But Jessica Wobbekind, who organizes the Logan Square Farmers Market, said the unlicensed vendors have drawn “a lot” of complaints from neighbors in the past.
“They really aren’t supposed to be there,” Wobbekind said. “It does add to the vibrancy and unique quality of the neighborhood. It’s hard to balance that, but there’s a limit, you have to keep order. I don’t know the balance and how to achieve that.”
After last weekend, some vendors said they’re worried about returning to Logan Boulevard to sell their wares. Others said they’re planning to go back and risk it or sell nearby — either around the monument or east of the market.
“I’m fully prepared — mentally — that we might … get booted again,” Mitacek said.
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.