‘I want change for our people’: This former hot dog vendor helps street vendors get their permits
It’s Sunday, and “bailamos con el tuca tuca tucanazo!” is heard playing in the distance in downtown Santa Ana; the smell of carne asada, bacon-wrapped hot dogs and elotes draws you into what is now Orange County Certified Premier “Tianguis Market.”
But what sets this outdoor market apart from other Southern California markets? The founder of Tianguis Market FoundationNico Armenta said it’s all in the name and the work they do to uplift street vendors and their community.
For Armenta, who considers himself an entrepreneur, the idea of opening a market came to him in 2020 when everyone, including himself, was looking for some hope.
“We noticed that our people on the street were suffering; during this period, there were also many attacks on vendors. It was total chaos,” Armenta said. “I was just thinking, what can we do to help? What can we do to provide a safe space for vendors and the community? »
Armenta said he also knows first-hand how badly small businesses have been affected by the closures in 2020. His shops where he sold dog accessories were no exception to the closures and have been closed permanently. Struggling to figure out what he was going to do with all the merchandise left behind, and with recent street vendor attacks looming in the back of his head, Armenta did what anyone would do: he s is entrusted to his father.
“I was like, ‘man estoy agüitado’ (‘man I’m down.’) I don’t know what we’re going to do,” he told his father. To which his father replied, “mijo vete a la calle to sell them, like at tianguis.” “Son, go to the street to sell them, like in the tianguis.”
A light bulb went on in his head, and flashbacks to visiting the tianguis as a child crossed his mind. His thought process?
“I’m trying to create something to help us all. Not just me, but all of us, where we can actually sell and let it be legit and safe,” he said.
So he decided to put his savings into this idea of tianguis, but in the United States. And soon after, the market, which got its start in Irvine, finally took root in the town of Santa Ana, the city in which it grew up. For two and a half years, more than 50 vendors have come together to sell food. , merchandise and produce every Sunday on 4th Street. The atmosphere of the market is nostalgic; 20-foot flags on either side of the street greet all who pass.
Last Sunday’s market was kicked off by Aztec dancers, and a local DJ kept the energy going playing a mix of cumbias and reggeaton for four hours. The market also organizes a raffle every Sunday. For every $20 spent at a booth, shoppers receive a raffle ticket and prize range.
That day, a woman won 60 free tacos from one of the food stalls in the market.
As for the sellers, they can set their schedules and are not obliged to be present every Sunday. As well as providing a fun and safe space for the community and street vendors, Armenta, which was once a street vendor, does what most marketplaces don’t, help vendors with their permits.
“I used to sell hot dogs, I’ve never been attacked or assaulted, but I think people go after the most vulnerable sellers,” he said. “I want change for our people. That’s why it’s really important to me to educate them and equip them with information and get them certified. It’s very personal to me.
Street vendor Edgar Alcaraz Arlanzwheren, owner of 626 Sushi Tacos at La Puente, a stand that sells Mexican-style sushi, said he was very lucky to have never encountered the health department when he was unlicensed. Partly thanks to other vendors alerting them if they saw the city coming to attack them. When he started, he said he only had one table and would sit on the sidewalk with his family.
“We didn’t have permits, and honestly didn’t know how to get them,” Arlanz said.wheren on Sunday. “But when we met Nico he helped us get all the permits we needed and explained everything to us.”
Armenta not only helped them with their permits which enabled them to sell in other markets and special events, but he helped them set up their stand. Help with setting up a canopy for the heat and getting banners with their menu and logo printed on them. “Fue una gran ayuda (it was a big help), now we can go anywhere,” said Arlanzwheren with a smile.
Francisco Azcona, a elotero who lost his hand last month to what is said to be a firework display left outside his house, is one of the vendors Armenta invited and offered a free place to sell. Armenta, who is also a veteran, said people like Azcona are the type of salespeople he wants to help. When they first opened their marketplace, which has now also become a non-profit organization, they received about 500 vendor inquiries. He and his wife recall spending hours on the phone helping vendors, guiding them through the process for each permit based on what they were selling.
Alexandra Alvarado from Events La Reyna Tapatia, a one-stop shop for tacos, pupusas, hot dogs, and more is another vendor that resides in the market. It was Alvarado’s parents who created their food stand in Santa Ana 15 years ago. She said she was only five years old when she started selling with her parents. Over the years of selling, she said they had encountered some angry customers, but as she said, thankfully, nothing more. However, she admits that as street vendors they often had to keep an eye on the health service, and now that they are in a market they no longer have to look over their shoulders.
“That’s fine. There are other markets and exchanges where not only are spots expensive, but they don’t help you with permits or really give you the feeling that they care about you” “There should be more markets like this, where we can do what we love in peace,” Alvarado said.
Tianguis Market is doing so well that the couple decided to expand to other cities. One of the biggest cities in mind from the start was Los Angeles, mainly because they noticed a lot of attacks happening there. In the past, they had hosted a market at Compton to support a vendor who was hit in the head with a gun and had a gun pointed at his abdomen. Bute recently they announced the opening of a new Tianguis Market in La Playa Larga, Long Beach. The market’s grand opening will take place on August 14 and will be the largest of its kind, with space large enough for 500 vendors.
“I think everyone would agree that it’s necessary; now that we know this blueprint for this market is working, we want to use it and grow,” he said. “It’s about opening doors for everyone and trying to create change now.”
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