Pushcart Politics

Vendors fight City Hall

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    NEWSLETTERS

    There's nothing like elote from a street vendor.

    Pushcarts selling elotes and Italian ice are as much a part of Chicago street culture as newspaper boxes and potholes, but they are also illegal.

    Now a group of vendors, mostly from Little Village, are atttempting once again to band together to legitimize their businesses with City Hall -- accepting licensing and regulation in return for taxation that could put a little change in the city's pocket.

    "City pushcart vendors could legally prepare food with a type of license that already exists in the parks. Why not let them?" the Reader asks in its cover story this week.

    “A license from the city is going to be better for everyone,” Martin Unzueta, an organizer with the Chicago Workers’ Collaborative who’s been working with a vendors’ association, told the Reader. "He argues that the city might as well legitimize them because 'the street vendors are going to be there anyway. . . .  The economy is going down so the people are looking for how to bring some food to the table'.”

    Restaurant owners don't like the competition and the city worries about sanitation issues, but the bigger issue could be Mayor Daley's dislike of "disorderly" streets.

    At the same time, it's hard to see the mayor dismissing the potential tax revenue when he's already retroactively going after purchasers of Bears seat licenses.

    And Chicagoans love their elotes.

    "One of my favorite parts about living in Chicago is spring time," Leena writes at Leena Eats. "The snow melts, you can actually walk outside, and most importantly, the elotes carts come back. If you are in north Chicago or west Chicago, chances are good you will run into one of these bad boys. Don't ask questions, just hand them money and tell them you want a corn in a cup with everything. Un elotes con todo, por favor.

    For the mere price of $1.50-$3 USD (varies depending on location), you get this: a cup full of steamed corn just cut off the cob, Mexican crema, butter, a bit of mayo, some crumbly cotija cheese and just a smidge of chile powder. Occasionally a squeeze of lime juice. Otherwise known as the best freaking thing on earth you can buy on a street corner."

    Do we really want to outlaw that?

    Steve Rhodes is the proprietor of The Beachwood Reporter and a fan of street culture. He says eat at your own risk.