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Dominican Republic Street Vendors
Do take care, though, because hygiene standards are not always the highest, and especially if you have not been in the country very long, your stomach might be a little more sensitive in comparison to the vendor’s local clientele.

Fruit carts are often arranged with intricate care and attention, piling the papayas and bananas in symmetrical pyramids flanked by pineapples. In the run up to Christmas the flavor changes: and apples and grapes replace their tropical cousins as the main fruits on offer during the festive season.

Another common sight in every part of the Dominican Republic is the cocotero, the coconut seller, who gouges off the top of the coconut with his machete and pours the juice into a plastic cup for you, the customer. You also have the option of drinking straight out of the nut, straw optional. Citrus juice is another option, usually the freshly squeezed juice of sweet oranges, known in the DR as ‘chinas’. A traditional treat is ‘frio frio’: a cup of shaved ice with a choice of flavored syrups.

Many of these vendors choose their spots carefully; however, naturally, some spots/intersections are more coveted than others. Vendors frequently fight over the more coveted spots and/or make agreements with each other to compensate for one vendor getting a less desired location. This is the side of street vending, the one that goes on amongst vendors behind the scenes, that motorists do not see. Like the largest businesses, the vendors know their target market and cater to the needs of their customers. These could be housewives, schoolchildren, university students or employees of large companies, who all flock out to buy a mid-morning snack or the ingredients for the lunchtime meal. For Dominicans, these vendors are just another commercial outlet, and very much part of everyday life. They may charge a little more than one would pay in a supermarket or a ‘colmado’, but then again, they are the ultimate convenience store – where the goods come to your door, or at least to the street corner.

Traffic lights are the scene of much activity on the part of the vendors. As well as food of every kind imaginable, you can purchase cell phone accessories, phone cards, vehicle related items like steering wheel covers and windscreen wipers, trinkets, newspapers and even puppies, caged birds and goldfish. Coming up to Christmas time, you will see many vendors selling Christmas related items. The vendors, and purveyors of other services such as windscreen washers, maneuver themselves with impressive dexterity amongst the thronging traffic, and it is a wonder that accidents do not happen more often.

Buying anything through your car window can be exciting or harrowing, depending on how you look at it. Time it well, and make sure you have the right money, because otherwise the transaction might end up taking too long, and once the lights turn green, as far as the vehicles behind you are concerned your bag of cashew nuts is simply not as important as getting across that intersection!

Some of these vendors are independent, but some are employed by larger concerns: newspaper sellers get 4 pesos for each newspaper sold. Phone card vendors are even issued with corporate style uniforms these days! They get 8% of the value of each card they sell.

In keeping with the makeup of the wider informal economy, many street vendors are Haitian as well as Dominican. The country is host to thousands of Haitian migrants, many of whom are here illegally. They come over in hope of an income in the DR, which is relatively affluent compared to their homeland, the poorest country in the Americas. Haitians traditionally work in sugar cane cutting and construction (the men), domestic service (the women), and low-paid menial jobs. Street selling, which is informal and low-paid, is another sector where this part of the labor force can be found.

Another local fixture is the ‘limpiabotas’ – the shoeshine boys. Many young, poor Dominican boys can be seen walking up and down the streets with their homemade wooden shine boxes. The boxes act as both a holder for all of their shine equipment and as a spot where you can place your shoe while having it shined. Generally, when the limpia bota boy is finished with one shoe, he will “rap” the side of the wooden box to alert you that he is finished with the shoe and ready for the other one. Some, but not all of them, attend school are under the care of charitable organizations like ‘Muchachos y Muchachas con Don Bosco’ (Boys and Girls with Don Bosco), which ensures that hundreds of these children are looked after and provided with training and education. A shoeshine from a younger ‘limpiabotas’ generally costs 5 pesos. The premium service offered by the professionals at Parque Independencia can cost between 50 and 100, but they do a more thorough job.

Payment in the informal economy is strictly cash-only. Neither credit cards nor checks are accepted in this sector. However, once you establish yourself as a regular with a neighborhood vendor, they may well consider providing you with the goods ‘fiao’ (on credit). That way you will know you have well and truly been accepted by the locals!
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