Future of vendors uncertain as clock ticks down on Vancouver’s DTES Market

Click to play video: 'New location for Downtown Eastside market yet to be found'
New location for Downtown Eastside market yet to be found
The deadline is looming for the Downtown Eastside market, which is supposed to vacate its current space by the end of the month. The property is slated for redevelopment, and the City of Vancouver says so far, no suitable alternative space has been found. Kristen Robinson reports. – Aug 11, 2023

The clock is ticking for Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside street market, which is being forced to move out of its current location by the end of the month.

Supporters of the open-air market at 26 East Hastings say it’s a critical source of income for some of the city’s most vulnerable people, but critics have long alleged that it functions as a bazaar for stolen goods.

Click to play video: 'Concerns grow over Vancouver’s proposal to demolish heritage building for DTES street market'
Concerns grow over Vancouver’s proposal to demolish heritage building for DTES street market

The City of Vancouver’s lease on the space is up at the end of August, with the property slated for development by BC Housing. What happens after that remains unclear.

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“I’m very concerned, because with my situation, being disabled, what I get from the government is not quite enough to be able to meet my needs — I have a young family back home in Ghana who are looking up to me,” vendor Edward Duncan-Williams told Global News.

“This market, if it closes, is going to be devastating for me.”

Jason Taylor sells collectibles from hats to Pokemon cards and everything in between, and said he also relies on the income to supplement disability assistance.

“This helps with the bills I have and my daughter, so this market helps me quite a bit. If we don’t have it it’s going to hurt not only me but a lot of the other vendors as well,” he said.

Taylor said he was worried he’ll be forced to sell on the street if another market location isn’t sorted out.

“It’s a lot safer for me to be here in the market, because there’s always a high probability of having people steal things from me if I’m not paying attention,” he said.

“The fact that we have security here at all times, plus we have the occasional walkthrough by the Vancouver PD.”

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Vancouver police have long had misgivings about the market, which they allege fuels crime in the city.

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Click to play video: 'VPD respond to criticism about DTES drug seizure'
VPD respond to criticism about DTES drug seizure

Const. Tania Visintin said last week police tracked items stolen from a tourist’s car to the market, and alleged it is often where items stolen in violent shoplifting incidents end up.

“We’ve heard from retailers all over the city how frightened they are to go to work because they never know what they’ll be faced with when it comes to violent shoplifting,” she said.

“We’re talking about shoplifters with knives, with guns — some even real guns. That’s obviously a huge concern because we know from that theft in those retailers they will bring it to the market and it will be sold.”

Click to play video: 'City of Vancouver proposing to move Downtown Eastside flea market'
City of Vancouver proposing to move Downtown Eastside flea market

The market had to shut down for two weeks in June, after some of the vendors were targeted in a violent incident, and has since reopened with security.

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Sean Miles, director of the Binners’ Project, which manages the market on behalf of the city, said the June incident was a rare anomaly, and said the vendors are often scapegoated over the stolen goods allegations.

“That’s not to say there aren’t stolen goods that get vended potentially here as well as on the street, but I think the reality is that this market is far more supported and has far more eyes on it than someone who is just setting up on a street corner,” he said.

The market works with police, he added, and has implemented a list of banned, high-value items in order to discourage thieves.

In March, the City of Vancouver withdrew a proposal to demolish a nearby heritage building to act as a temporary home for the market when its lease expires. The city says there are currently no publicly-owned spaces available.

“I think what we will likely see is a dispersion of these vendors across the neighbourhood. And as we’ve seen with things like the encampment, there will still be these things happening, they just won’t be as centralized.”

Click to play video: 'New questions about Downtown Eastside “street market”'
New questions about Downtown Eastside “street market”

Miles said most vendors relied on sales at the market for a “pretty substantial portion” of their income, supplementing meagre disability or Canada Pension Program payments, and that nerves are frayed about potentially losing that.

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“It’s very concerning especially given we’ve seen a bit of an uptick in enforcement of vending on the street being not allowed,” he said.

“It’s not a small thing. For a lot of them, it’s like being shut out of your job.”

In a statement, the City of Vancouver said it was continuing to look for possible locations for the market, including indoor spaces, but that the lack of available space is “making it difficult.”

“Staff have also been reaching out to community partners to discuss other potential models of vending, including a focus on the resale of donated goods from the private sector or individuals, to enable safe low-threshold income generation and skills development for people living on very low income,” the statement said.

“This could include dispersing the current market across a few spaces in the DTES, including at indoor sites.”

The city said it is also interested in hearing from private landowners that would be willing to lease to the market.

In the meantime, vendors like Taylor are trying to find ways to manage the uncertainty of what comes next.

“I just pray and hope we can find another spot, but if we don’t I have to find a different avenue to try and make money somehow,” he said.

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“I’ve got to figure out something. I don’t know. At this point I have no idea.”

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