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China's push on "street vendor economy" faces urban challenges

It is 4pm, Wang Jiayu brings a large parcel of toys to Archaize Street, in order to occupy a good position for the coming night before other vendors trickle in.

The Street is the paradise for the night market in Datong, a city in Shanxi Province in mainland China. Every night, there are a host of vendors selling various goods. Wang Jiayu is one of the "familiar faces" of the street stall here as she has been setting up her stall since early June this year. 

But they sold almost nothing, as if no one is visiting. She was so idle that she played with her pet dog, Lala.

Wang Jiayu had been unemployed for four months and found it lucrative so started as a full-time street vendor.

"Since school started, fewer people would like to hang out and we lost lots of customers," said Mrs.Wang. 

She said her sales were 50% less than the summer vacation as the amounts of tourists and students significantly decreased. The goods she provides, such as toy cars and cartoon character models, are mostly targeted to children aged 5-12 who need to go to school on weekdays and busy with homework or tutorial classes at the weekend. 

Apart from the instability caused by the fluctuation of the holidays, the street vendor economy also brings pressure to the city's sanitation, even affecting the physical stores. 

Gao Yizhen, this 67-year-old man, is the cleaner of Archaize Street. He always works up late to make sure the streets are clean the next day since they night markets are not closing until midnight, "it is too exhausted to clean up until three in the morning."

During summer vacation, when the night market with a large people flow is over, garbage such as plastic bags and bamboo sticks could be seen everywhere in this street. In addition to sweep the trash, the most difficult part for him was dealing with the oil left behind by the vendors.

"Due to the huge flow of people, garbage often overflows the trash can," said Mr. Gao,"I also had to bend over for long time and cause heavily backache when cleaning up the oil." 

To reduce the huge workload of cleaners, the Pingcheng District Sanitation Department issued a series of measures such as increasing the frequency of garbage collection at night and allocating garage collection containers to complete garbage collection immediately. 

The road washing operation is also strengthened, and the residual oil at the gathering points of street stalls will be cleaned in the daytime with the use of pavement cleaning equipment. 

"When sit in the equipment, physical stress can been relieved and the roads are cleaner. The time spent on cleaning up the oil has been greatly reduced," said Mr. Gao.


China has opened up street vendor economy, an economic form making profit by setting up stalls, which was once banned because of environmental concerns.

As street vendors are allowed to set stalls in front of physical stores, the conflict between them has also been intensified. Zhang Keping, a street vendor promoting video application, said that it is easier to attract passerby when he moves to the front of bright stores. 

But such behaviours of street vendors has seriously affect the business of physical stores. Wang Yue runs a clothing store. Her revenue has dropped a lot after the appearance of the street vendors.

"Our shop's turnover in the past three months has dropped by 10%," said Wang Yue, "Visitors find the street stalls outside lively and novel that they seldom pay attention to the real shops built behind."

Mrs Wang said that many clothing stores had to offer discounts to make money.

As for the commercial competition caused by street vendors, Lin Lin, who is the policy office director of China Xinxing Group, regarding physical stores as a part of real economy, said that street vendor economy and real economy represent the respective demands of different social and economic structures and should exist simultaneously to meet the balanced development of social and economic construction

The Premier Li Keqiang supported street vendor economy and praised it as 'the vitality of China'. It was also announced by The China Central Civilization Office on May 26 that the occupation of the road, street markets, floating vendors won't be included in the civilised city evaluation index this year, in case of encouraging people to set up street vendors ensuring employment in the post-epidemic period. 

In a change from acrimonious relations, "Chengguan"—who used to dispel vendors to keep the roads clean before sometimes ask about the business conditions of vendors and chat a little while on duty now.

While Peng Siqing, the marketing professor from Peking University proposed that faced with urban difficulties caused by the street stall economy, it is necessary to upgrade in six aspects, namely, people's awareness, commodity quality, operation experience, on-site management, government services, and enterprise support.

It is particularly cold in autumn, with temperature of almost below zero degrees after sunset. Mrs Wang had to leave with all her unsold toys.

"It will be better for us vendors if the government can open more areas to set up stalls," said Mrs. Wang, "It is difficult to get customers on work days by only allowing stalls setting in scenic areas."

《The Young Reporter》

The Young Reporter (TYR) started as a newspaper in 1969. Today, it is published across multiple media platforms and updated constantly to bring the latest news and analyses to its readers.


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