What is a Street Vendor?

In the simplest terms, this type of vendor is someone that sells food, goods and merchandise on the street or in an open-air market rather than in a traditional storefront setting. The "store" is either a small stand that can be locked and shut down at the end of the night, or a cart that the peddler can move from location to location and take home at the end of the workday.

Everyone purchases something from a street peddler at some point in their life - hot dogs, pretzels, meat, vegetables, fruit, cold drinks, flowers, small souvenirs, or mementos from a vacation or trip.

Selling food or other merchandise from a cart or stand on the street may seem like a perfect way to earn a living while at the same time owning a small business. Self-employment and the opportunity to set one’s schedule all the while being outside may seem like the best job opportunity around. With no building lease costs, overhead of employees, and few bills besides the cost of the merchandise being sold, street peddling appears to be a relatively simple business venture.

However, like any other small business, street vending requires time, patience, some upfront costs, strategic planning, basic marketing strategies, and the proper licenses or permits required by the state or area.

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What does a Street Vendor do?

A vendor or peddler sells merchandise from a cart or station usually located on a sidewalk or area where pedestrians walk by. A vendor's main objective is to make money by selling items that people feel like they need or that they simply cannot miss. Often these items are food-related, as those are the easiest permits to obtain.

Generally, a vendor will need to obtain a sales tax permit and a tax certificate from the government's revenue agency, a general business license from the city or county clerk’s office, and an additional vendor or peddler’s license from one's city or county government. These permits can take anywhere from several weeks to several months to obtain depending on the area and time of year. It also should be noted that many areas throughout North America only allow a certain number of permits to be given each year so it is important to research the area where one hopes to work to be certain that a permit or license can be obtained.

A vendor will also need to be aware and be in accordance with any other registrations or licensing requirements that apply to the area in which they will be working. If the items being sold are food-related, contact with the area’s local Department of Health will need to be made in order to obtain permits as well as to be advised of health codes and regulations. A food vendor will likely be required to attend a Food Protection Course for Mobile Food Vendors.

How to become a Street Vendor

It takes hard work, dedication, patience, and the ability to speak with all types of people in order to be a successful street peddler. It takes patience just to get the proper permits before one can even start their business. It takes hard work for a vendor to have his/her cart on the street trying to bring in the customers and make sales. It takes dedication to keep trying to make a profit, especially when there could be a week of bad weather that keeps potential customers indoors and away from a vendor’s cart. Vendors need to enjoy speaking with people as well as have the ability to draw people to them and entice them to buy what they are selling. Having this charisma will bring in sales as well as keep people coming back not only for the items being sold but also to have a brief conversation with the vendor.

There is no special degree needed to be a vendor, though having a few business and marketing classes can help business grow. Some universities have classes available online that can teach valuable tips for starting up one’s own vendor business.

What is the workplace of a Street Vendor like?

A street peddler's workplace is ideally a highly trafficked area located in an area with plenty of businesses and people. The weather is an element that all vendors must deal with. Days with perfect weather will yield higher profits, but vendors will also have to contend with days of pouring rain, high winds, and biting cold in which they will be lucky to break even for the day. Dates, times, and locations as to which street peddlers can set up their carts often vary depending upon the area; and depending upon these, there may be times during the year when street peddling is not allowed.

Street peddlers are in constant contact with potential buyers, so they must always have on their “game face," so to speak. There is no down time for a street peddler, as they must constantly be trying to lure in customers to their cart. It can be a long day that slowly drags by when no one is coming to a vendor’s cart, or it can be just the opposite with lines of people waiting to buy the items being sold.