How do street vendors work?|
Street vendors work under the hot Caribbean sun, tropical downpours and in the
midst of hectic big city traffic, is the answer to that question.
A large part of the Dominican economy is made up of what’s known as ‘the
informal sector’. This informal economy includes employees such as domestic
workers and small-scale traders. In the case of the traders, the fact that they
are ‘informal’ means that their business is unregistered and unregulated, and
not subject to taxation. It is also the way in which a large percentage of
Dominican people earn their living. In Spanish they are known as ‘vendedores
Many of these informal businesses consist of little more than a tricycle or
cart, often shaded by a colorful beach umbrella. In some cases not even that.
The vendors either roam the streets, work from fixed spots on shady corners, or
ply their trade at traffic intersections.
Street vendors are a colorful part of Dominican life, but for the tourist, the
hawkers and hustlers in vacation areas selling trinkets and foodstuffs can also
be a nuisance. The best advice for tackling over-zealous merchants of this kind
is to be firm but polite in declining their offers. When this does not work,
walk away if appropriate or use a stronger tone. Always bear in mind that this
is their livelihood, but at the same time it does not excuse any harassment or
invasive behavior on their part.
If you do choose to engage with these vendors, by all means haggle, but within
reason. You might gain some satisfaction from bringing down the price, but
again, for the seller, this is his/her living, so keep it in proportion. What is
just a couple of dollars to you could mean the difference between getting food
on the table and skipping a meal for the seller. It is a fact of life that some
vendors will try to overcharge: depending on the item it is possible to detect
these attempts if you have an idea what the actual price should be.
If in any doubt - just don’t buy it. If the street vendor does appear to be
unscrupulous or aggressive, you could mention ‘Politur’, the tourist police that
patrols tourist areas like beach towns and the Colonial Zone in Santo Domingo,
and this should scare him/her off.
What do they sell?
Vendors in tourist areas hawk a range of items: seafood snacks (including
shellfish marketed as ‘natural Viagra’), crafts souvenirs and artisan items like
jewelry, t-shirts, baseball caps, sarongs and plastic beach toys.
Be aware that some of the ‘artesania’ being sold as local crafts may well be
mass-produced in some Chinese factory and not Dominican at all. Other items may
be from Haiti, or made by Haitians in the Dominican Republic. If authenticity is
important to you, seek out the workshops where local crafts are made instead of
buying them on the street. Likewise, caution is advised when buying what are
described as Cuban Cigars: these are quite likely to be counterfeit and it is
best to go to a recommended store, where the price might be higher but the
quality and authenticity is more reliable.
Most beaches frequented by tourists will have one or two ‘Mama Juana’ sellers
who usually oblige by letting potential buyers sample his potent wares.
Beyond the tourist areas, street sellers are very much a part of everyday life
in the Dominican Republic. In every city or town, from the poorest barrio to the
wealthiest neighborhood, fruit sellers and their colorful barrows of tropical
fruits are posted on most street corners, and many other sellers do the rounds
on specially adapted tricycles selling vegetables as well as fruit to their
regular customers. They call out their wares, sound a horn or whistle to alert
housewives about their arrival. In the afternoons ice-cream sellers do their
rounds on their bicycles, ringing their bells to get the attention of children
and older ice-cream lovers.
Campesinos (farmers) bring their produce from the countryside, often on
horse-drawn carts laden with lemons, pineapples or coconuts, providing an
interesting contrast with the urban traffic. These pieces of fruit can usually
be purchased for just a few pesos each.
Street vendors may sell fruit and vegetables, prepared ‘frituras’ (typical
Dominican fried delicacies like yaniqueques (johnnycakes), empanadas (pies),
carnita (meat), quipes (kibbes) and more), hot dogs and ‘chimi churri’
(hamburgers), natural fruit juices and homemade sweets and candies. All are
worth trying, and many are also attractive subjects for photography.