South LA

On Wednesdays, Black women link: Street vendors gather in Leimert Park for weekly night market

The Black Women Vend program allows local food entrepreneurs to obtain permits and serve the Leimert Park and Crenshaw community.

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A cohort of Black, female street vendors — Black Women Vend — come together every Wednesday evening at Leimert Park Village to host a community night market.

Black Women Vend functions as both a service organization and a training program sponsored by the nonprofit, L.A. Legal Assistant. Black Women Vend offers free guidance for local food entrepreneurs to obtain the proper permits and business licenses necessary for street vending in Los Angeles.

This mission is spearheaded by Jennifer Laurent, a South L.A. resident of over 30 years, who wanted to make a change when she recognized the struggle of navigating the legalities of street vending.

“It’s very difficult to figure out the whole permitting process for street vendors because you have to go through so many different agencies,” Laurent said. “You have to go through the state for a seller’s permit, and then the city for a tax registration certificate and then to a different part of the city for a street vendor permit. And then when it comes to food vendors, there is no official permit for an individual street food vendor.”

Out of approximately 10,000 sidewalk street vendors in the city of L.A., less than 200 received permits, according to an August report by the UCLA School of Law Community Economic Development and Public Counsel.

Many L.A. vendors operate outside of the law due to the complications of receiving permits, which subjects them to heavy fines, and sometimes, arrest. This disproportionately affects women of color — who make up 80% of L.A. street vendors — which is a problem that Black Women Vend aims to combat.

The Leimert Park Night Market provides participants of the Black Women Vend program a place to legally sell their food, so they can grow a customer base and earn money after completing their training.

“We were doing pop-ups because we had so many issues with our building permits,” said Genelle Brooks-Petty, owner of AllChill Hip Hop Ice Cream shop and member of the first Black Women Vend cohort. “We were looking for ways to connect with the community, let people know what we do, and that we were coming in brick-and-mortar form … and I was approached by Jen. Just the wealth of knowledge that she has and the resources that [she] connects us to, it’s been a really good experience.”

Black Women Vend gives participating vendors access to resources such as agents and food business consultants, creating learning opportunities for business preparedness.

Wholly Mother Vegan, another vendor from the first Black Women Vend cohort, expanded her brand presence and clientele over the past few months as a result.

“I’m at Black Women Vend every Wednesday, and I’m all over the city at different events. I’m at the museum, I’m at USC, I’m all over now,” said Loni Lightburn, owner of Wholly Mother Vegan.

Lightburn hopes to operate a full franchise for vegan drive-thru restaurants in the next five to ten years.

The wide selection of vendors at the market provide a variety of food options for attendees. From comfort dinners to freshly made desserts, customers like Chrysalyn Byrd find the environment equal parts satisfying and inspiring.

“There were a lot of things that I could relate to, and things I actually wanted to buy. My favorite part of the experience was Filthy Rich Banana Pudding. [Tanya Ward, the owner,] had amazing customer service. She let me sample all of the flavors and decide which one I wanted, and I definitely want some more of that pudding,” Byrd said. “It made me want to open up a business and be a part of that Black excellence.”

Vendors of the Black Women Vend program hosted a market for the Academy of Motion Pictures Museum during the first weekend of Black History Month. Most recently, members of the Angel City Football Club, L.A.’s women’s soccer team, visited and promoted the market via Instagram.

“[That was] huge for the women because there’s no other way we would’ve been able to get that kind of publicity and uplifting of the individual businesses without them,” Laurent said. “The way people can support is by just coming out and supporting the market, purchasing food from the vendors. Leimert Park is a part of South L.A., and it is a food desert, so there’s not always a lot of good options. But we have vegan choices, organic, cold-pressed juices, home cooked Jamaican food, just really good food.”