‘The fences didn’t help’: 24th Street Mission BART vendors brace for new permit system as part of crackdown on sale of stolen goods

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“The fences didn’t help. On the contrary, they just created more problems,” said Joshua Baltodano, a nearby resident who helped create the “Mission DeFence” Instagram page to organize resistance against the fences. “When the fences were here, there was no room for anyone. Now we have room to have legit sellers here selling their goods and services and trying to make a living.

Baltodano said BART attempted to reinstall the fences later Saturday morning, but gave up when community members refused to leave the plaza.

Vendor Demetra Block, who has been selling used clothes on the streets for two years, said she returned and set up shop in the square shortly after the fences fell. She said she relies on the square not only to sell her wares, but also to buy necessities.

“I sell my things for $1, $2 or $5. Which is very affordable. I also have to come here to get my laundry detergent,” she said. $20 in stores. But I can come here and get it for 10 or 15 bucks.

She also pushed back against the claim that open-air markets, like this one, are dangerous, and said that since coming here, she has never seen a fight.

“These people are trying to feed their families. They avoid trouble. They don’t sell drugs,” Block said. “Why would they take this place from us?” »

But Ronen said that in the months leading up to the erection of the fences, his office received numerous complaints from voters that the square had become overcrowded and unruly, with an increasing number of people selling stolen goods and making it difficult for the elderly and disabled to navigate the sidewalks. Meanwhile, nearby brick-and-mortar businesses have complained that street vendors are creating unfair competition.

Ronen also said some longtime vendors who had been selling in the neighborhood for decades said they had been assaulted.

“People would come and snatch their tablecloth from the table and all their wares would fly away.” she says.

Jerome Allen sells items one block from 24th and Mission Streets for more space in San Francisco on August 10, 2022. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

“Stop and Shop”

Another vendor, Jerome Allen, was selling wares in the square, but was forced to walk down Mission Street when the fences were erected. His sidewalk, which he calls “Stop and Shop”, is one of the largest around. It spans the length of a typical retail storefront and is organized by merchandise, including shoes, apparel, tools, electronics, and games.

“If you can name something that I don’t have, I’ll give you something for free.” he said.

He says he’s trying to maintain a legitimate business.

“A lot of stuff, people donate to me,” he said. “They’ll just pull up in their car and give me a bag of stuff.”

But Allen acknowledges that inevitably some of what he and others sell may have originally been stolen before it reached them – what he calls “booster”.

“I think the boost has gotten a little out of control, you know, they’re overdoing it.” he said.

Last year, viral videos of staged retail robberies – including a brazen robbery of a Louis Vuitton store in the upscale Union Square shopping district, and a man in a Walgreens casually throwing items off a shelf in a trash bag and riding a bike from the store—propelled San Francisco into the national spotlight, particularly galvanizing the attention of conservative media, which made headlines describing the city as “lawless”.

National and local politicians have taken notice.

“Illegal street vending has posed a significant challenge to our city and our small businesses for some time now, and it has only gotten worse since the pandemic began,” said the mayor of San Francisco, London Breed, in a March press release.

The unwanted publicity of retail theft spurred action by politicians and law enforcement, who began to focus on cracking down not only on theft, but also on the resale of stolen goods. The closure of the BART plaza was another such reaction.

Still, some of the sellers who spoke with KQED said they were in favor of the fences. Garcia is one of the vendors who continued to sell along the fences while they were still in place (he asked that his full name not be used because he fears for his safety). He said he welcomed the fences because it kept people from harassing him while he was working.

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