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Street Vendors Appear to Be Sold on Budding Designers’ Change of Cart : Students develop prototypes to meet new standards for MacArthur Park peddlers.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After two years of public hearings, street vendors gained the right this week to sell their wares in a specially zoned district in the MacArthur Park area west of Downtown.

While the peddlers no longer have to worry about being fined by police or harassed by competing shopkeepers, they now face tough city regulations and must pay hundreds of dollars in licenses and fees if they want to do business in an official vending district.

Among the strictest rules are the restrictions on the size and placement of vending carts. No longer can the vendors throw down a blanket on the sidewalk or set up shop on a couple of milk crates.

And this is where an unlikely bunch of experts stepped in to offer their assistance.

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A group of students from the Southern California Institute of Architecture in Marina del Rey (often referred to as SCI-Arc) spent two weeks this summer designing and building three prototypes for carts that meet the city’s strict ordinances.

The students’ work is likely to enable vendors to pay hundreds of dollars less than the cost of existing carts, experts say.

SCI-Arc instructors Norman Millar and Gale McCall taught a workshop for 10 architecture students. The students met with vendors and their advocates at the Central American Resource Center and, using the vendors’ suggestions, created prototypes for a clothing cart, a fruit cart and a novelty-item cart.

“They are really cool-looking,” Millar said.

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Each cart is made from steel and specifically designed to suit the product sold from it. The novelty-item cart, for instance, is a set of four bright-yellow display racks that can be folded down onto a dolly at the end of the day.

Though the prototypes were innovative in design, students had to be extra creative with their work because of the tough regulations the carts had to meet. The new rules require vendors to use carts no more than 6 1/2 feet tall, 3 1/2 feet wide and 6 feet long.

Preliminary estimates for the cost of the carts were as high as $2,000 apiece. But the SCI-Arc carts can be manufactured for less than $1,000, according to Millar--a price that street vendor advocates say the vendors are willing to pay.

“They are affordable,” said Jorge Perez, the resource center’s street vending coordinator. “It gives vendors an alternative and [it] cuts costs.”

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A group of 38 vendors who have signed up for the MacArthur Park district were shown the prototype carts and asked to comment on them, Perez said.

“In general, they were really pleased with the designs” as well as the relatively low cost Perez said.

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The snazzy-looking carts will also abate the fears that shopkeepers have of the vending district creating an unsavory atmosphere, Perez predicted.

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One nonprofit developer, Build Plus, has already expressed interest in mass-producing the SCI-Arc carts based on the prototypes developed by the students.

“They are terrific,” said Wajeha Bilal, president of Build Plus, who wants to see the carts used in conjunction with antique vending carts from the 1940s at a cultural marketplace she is developing near the Watts Towers.

The students who built the prototype carts say their experience was a valuable lesson in real-life architectural design.

“Our school is so theoretical,” said Nancy Lopez. “This was something that we built, and it was great to see it function.”

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“What we did was the first step,” said Tinny Chai, another student. “We let [the vendors] know what they can do.”


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