Maria Marroquin, an immigrant from El Salvador, thrust her hand into her apron pocket and pulled out 35 cents to emphasize the point she was making.
"This is all I have," she said, extending her palm. "We have no money."
Marroquin, who earns her living selling clothing along Broadway in downtown Los Angeles, was among about 40 Salvadoran street vendors at El Rescate, a Central American refugee center on Pico Boulevard, Thursday evening.
They gathered there after police arrested 20 of their fellow vendors on Thursday for selling without permits on Broadway between 3rd and 6th streets. A task force of 10 officers and a dozen officials from other city departments conducted a sweep between noon and 1:30 p.m., said Police Sgt. Dan Schultz.
Jobs Hard to Come By
The vendors argue that jobs are hard to come by and they can survive only by peddling their wares--greeting cards, toys, undergarments, slippers, combs and brushes--on the street. Even then, they said, they earn only $100 a week in a good week. Businessmen, however, complain that the vendors block entrances to their shops and set up in direct competition with their stores.
"During the week there has to be about 25 vendors along that stretch of Broadway on any given day," Schultz said. "That number doubles on weekends. With the holiday season coming, it (the number of vendors) was getting out of hand. We needed to do something on Broadway."
Officers patrolling Broadway receive daily complaints, Schultz said.
"The businesses are paying a lot of rent for frontage on Broadway," he said. "They're also paying overhead. The vendors, with no overhead, can set up in direct competition."
Six Women Arrested
The vendors arrested Thursday, including six women, were booked for investigation of misdemeanor charges of selling on the sidewalk without a permit, Schultz said.
"We have asked for permits, but they only give them for certain areas," said Dolores Moreno, one of the vendors who went to El Rescate. "They'll give us a permit for some location like San Pedro (Street) and 32nd Street, but no one passes there. The only thing I can do there is get robbed."
Like the other vendors who fled, Moreno said she was afraid that she might be arrested if she returns to Broadway. But, she said, she has no choice.
"We are suffering here," she said. "We need help from the mayor. The patrols won't let us earn a living. We have to return (to Broadway). We have to eat."
'Have to Find a Way'
"Legally they don't have a case," said El Rescate's director, Roberto Alfaro. "But the point is what are they going to do. There are no jobs available. They have to find a way to make a living."
Vendors say they would like to be able to reach an accommodation with the city that would allow them to sell between 3 and 6 p.m. on weekdays, and all day on Saturdays. But they are not optimistic that merchants will agree.
Earlier this year, the City Council, at the Broadway merchants' request, adopted an ordinance restricting the number of newsstands along the street and limiting their sales to newspapers, books and magazines.
The street vendors, however, say their only imperative is survival.
"We came to this country looking for help, but what we're finding is mistreatment from the authorities," one man said as others nodded in agreement.