From a purely tourist standpoint it is fascinating to try to identify what some of the street vendors in the cities are selling as we whip past them in traffic. Many hold long cardboard sheets of stacked sunglasses, which I have yet to see a Salvadoran wear, mobile phone cases, car parts, CDs, toiletries, and pirated movies.
Each market stall along the streets sells a specific item in the same spot each day. The fruit lady sells bananas, plantains, and whatever else is in season; the dairy vendor hawks her cheeses; the flower vendor entices with her most colorful bouquets, and numerous snack vendors sell their plethora of yummy treats. In the rural areas the vendors walk, ride their bikes, or drive trucks marketing their homemade breads, fish, vegetables, and fruits daily. Remember, much of the country still has no refrigeration which requires locals to purchase their food on a daily basis.
Vendors sell jewelry, t-shirts, and local art at stalls closer to the popular tourist spots where buses roll in frequently. They also sell personal services such as washing your car windows, hoeing or painting your cemetery plot, or serving as a tourist guide.
Enjoy perusing some of our photos of street vendors: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WrrlBdWL1I
All of these vendors work in what is known as the “informal” work sector of the country. By in large, they are unable to find jobs in the “formal” work sector which pays a decent salary and has benefits; therefore, folks have been reduced to this way of providing a living for their families. The vendors claim that it is a result of their civil war in the 80’s that resulted in this economic crisis.
In late October and November of 2012 during election time, a presidential candidate and the mayor of San Salvador launched an attack on the street vendors, bulldozing 970 stalls across 33 city blocks which cleared out between 4,000 – 7,000 vendors and their goods. One of the issues was between the informal and formal work sectors. Informal workers neither charge nor pay taxes. The argument of the vendors is they claim their buyers cannot afford to purchase in the formal sector because of the taxes plus the transportation to distant malls, etc. The vendors’ outcry was one of injustice, that they were forcibly displaced without warning, lost their merchandise, and denied the right to make a living.
The variety of energetic vendors and their curious products add to the colorful mosaic of life in this Latin American country.