Food vendors struggle on Phoenix streets

Phoenix – Every day dozens of food vendors like Marta Rojas push and pedal small carts on Phoenix streets selling a variety of snacks from corn in a cup to mangos on a stick.

“I like being here, working, meeting people, knowing the community. Its nice,” said Rojas.

The kids love her, not only for her treats, but because she has seen most of them grow up. One of her loyal customers, Ruben Martinez, 12, looks forward to hearing the bell that signals Rojas is in his apartment complex parking lot. “It’s pretty good because she takes her time and makes sure that it’s all nice and good.”

Rojas has been a street vendor for 13 years and is originally from Puebla, Mexico. She’s one of the few women in a largely immigrant workforce of street vendors. And she’s encountered difficult and dangerous situations.

“People who rob. People who yell at you in the streets, people on drugs. Some lose consciousness. We put ourselves out there to all those dangers,” said Rojas.

Martha Rojas, Phoenix street vendor, prepares a shaved ice treat for a customer. (Photo by Yesenia Beltran/ Cronkite News)

Martha Rojas, Phoenix street vendor, prepares a shaved ice treat for a customer. (Photo by Yesenia Beltran/ Cronkite News)

The mother of three also has faced problems with the city because she does not have a vendor’s license. “The only license I have, is from God,” said Rojas.

The City of Phoenix requires all vendors, no matter how small, to get a license. Phoenix has issued 120 new permits so far this year. An untold number of additional vendors are working without a license.

“Applicants must have at least two forms of identification showing lawful presence,” said Denise Archibald, license services supervisor in the Phoenix City Clerk’s office. Archibald would not elaborate but referred to the list of forms of identification which includes a passport and other proof of citizenship.

Rojas does not qualify for a vendor’s license because the city requires proof of immigration status. She’s not alone. “There are plenty vendors in the area selling without a permit,” said Rojas.

Vendors operating without a permit run the risk of getting a fine or even jail time. “The fine is determined by the court,” said Archibald. “The range of possible penalties are either outlined in each code section or they default to the city’s general penalty….,” said Archibald.

“The vendor may be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by a fine not exceeding $2500 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or probation not to exceed three years,” as per the city code.

But it’s a risk Rojas and others are willing to take to make a living and support their families. Rojas dreams of becoming a citizen. Two of her children, ages 6 and 11, are U.S. citizens. “One comes to this country to advance and move forward. (That’s) every person’s dream, every parent’s dream because I have kids.”