Little Village street vendors demand protection from theft that’s ‘happening more now than ever before’

Theft in the 10th Police District, which includes Little Village, has jumped up around 40% this year, from 378 thefts in 2021 up to 541, according to Chicago police statistics.

SHARE Little Village street vendors demand protection from theft that’s ‘happening more now than ever before’
Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) speaks at a news conference in Little Village about the need for increased protection for the Lower West Side’s street vendors, many of whom say they have been robbed in the last few months. 

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) speaks at a news conference Friday in Little Village about the need for increased protection for the Lower West Side’s street vendors, many of whom say they have been robbed in the last few months.

Michael Loria/Sun-Times

The first time Maria Aguilar was robbed in November, it was like the three men were waiting for her, she said.

Aguilar, a tamale vendor, arrived at her usual spot in Little Village when a white truck pulled up, three men got out, one pulled a gun and the others took the $50 in cash she had on her.

“I barely had time to think,” she said — and it wasn’t long until she was robbed two other times that month.

Aguilar, 50, joined other neighborhood vendors who gathered Friday to call attention to rising cases of robbery and theft that they say are spiraling out of control, affecting both their bottom lines and their mental health.

“After that first time, you’re left with trauma,” said Aguilar’s husband, Solomon Yuman, who was robbed once years ago.

Maria Aguilar, left, and Solomon Yuman, a couple and street vendors who work along West 26th Street in Little Village.

Maria Aguilar and Solomon Yuman, a couple who work as street vendors along West 26th Street in Little Village.

Michael Loria/Sun-Times

Natives of Guatemala, the two moved to the U.S. together and began street vending because it was readily accessible work. She sells tamales at the intersection of Homan Avenue and 26th Street in Little Village; he, elotes — a spicy, grilled corn snack — at the intersection of Pulaski and 26th.

The mile-long distance has let them cover more ground for 15 years, but now it’s causing anxiety. “I’m worried for what might happen to her,” said Yuman, 53.

The anxiety is impacting their 11-year-old son, and the robberies are hitting their livelihood, they said. “Because of this, we’re behind on rent.”

Theft in the 10th Police District, which includes Little Village, has jumped up around 40% this year, from 378 thefts in 2021 up to 541, according to Chicago police statistics.

Augusto Aquino said that many of the 180 members of the Association of Street Vendors have told him about being robbed, even if they haven’t reported it for fear of reprisal.

“It’s happening more now than ever before,” said Aquino, 59, who presides over the group.

The native of Mexico spoke at a news conference on Friday at the intersection of Albany Avenue and 26th Street, surrounded by about a dozen vendors who said they had been robbed recently, many more than once.

The group demanded the city step up protections for street vendors, and addressed a letter to Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Police Supt. David Brown expressing their concerns.

“Street vendors are trying to bring food to our families at the same that we are offering a service to the community and we deserve to work in a secure environment where our lives are not at risk,” it reads.

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), who also signed the letter, asked CPD for a more permanent strategy to help vendors. “We demand immediate change,” he said.

Sigcho-Lopez said the thefts have stretched across his ward to Pilsen.

Walfre Cisneros, a vendor in that neighborhood, is worried about the toll it’s taken on his business.

Walfre Cisneros, a vendor in Pilsen, is worried about the toll that crime has taken on his business. 

Walfre Cisneros, a vendor in Pilsen, is worried about the toll that crime has taken on his business.

Michael Loria/Sun-Times

The Brighton Park resident began street vending around a dozen years ago when a hand injury left him unable to work in factories any longer, he said. He sells cut fruit and elote, a skill he learned growing up at festivals in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

Cisneros works in Harrison Park, where he’s been robbed twice in the last six months, but as much as those thefts have impacted him, he said it’s also impacted his customer base.

“Sales have gone down a lot,” said Cisneros, 67. “Already people don’t come out as much because it’s cold, but now they’re afraid to.”

Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.

The Latest
The man was attempting to cross the roadway in the 3800 block of South Lake Shore Drive when he was hit by a vehicle going north.
About 9:30 p.m., officers responded to reports of a person stabbed and found the man in the 4300 block of West 26th Street.
Anthony Calderon, 20, was charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Arturo Cantu.
A dedicated servant to the team, the Fire are winless in six matches and it’s bothering Klopas that he cannot find a fix.
The nonprofit wants to open a fourth school that would double as a venue with a bar, in a “significant step forward” as it also looks to offer an affordable performance space for artists.