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For street vendors, the Super Bowl could mean a bonanza

Super Bowl sidewalk vendors
Ishiaketi Arbiana sells Super Bowl T-shirts and Valentine’s Day gifts Friday afternoon in Inglewood.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)
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With Valentine’s Day and the Super Bowl approaching, Ishiaketi Arbiana hoped to cash in. And she was at the perfect place to do it.

About a mile from Inglewood’s SoFi Stadium, which will host the Super Bowl on Sunday, Arbiana set up a sidewalk table filled with red roses, $40 lingerie baskets and heart-shaped balloons, as well as T-shirts commemorating the big game.

In the space of 30 minutes Friday afternoon, a few customers browsed the Super Bowl T-shirts, with only one forking over $10.

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“It’s been light like this today, but we hope business picks up,” Arbiana said. “We’re hoping this is going to be a big weekend.”

With the hometown Rams in the Super Bowl against the Cincinnati Bengals, the excitement in Los Angeles is nearing a fever pitch.

But on Friday near the stadium, vendors selling Valentine’s Day merchandise outnumbered those hawking football gear.

Right now, thousands of caps, T-shirts, sweatshirts and face masks proclaiming the Los Angeles Rams the next Super Bowl champion are sitting in boxes. What happens if they lose?

Feb. 11, 2022

The ranks of those hoping to make a few bucks are sure to expand on game day, despite a crackdown on counterfeit merchandise and rumors about immigration officers targeting street vendors.

Arbiana, of Burbank, who usually works as a caterer, has set up shop on Inglewood sidewalks around holidays, including Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, for seven years. She said she is not hassled by law enforcement.

When asked about the legitimacy of the T-shirts, which bear her Instagram handle on the lower right corner, Arbiana smiled and said they are “homemade.” Street vending has helped her make ends meet, she said.

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“I have a good relationship with Inglewood PD,” she said. “They know I’m only here a few weekends a year, and I’m not hurting anyone. It’s a win-win.”

Officials from Homeland Security Investigations, a branch of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that focuses on criminal investigations, announced Thursday that they had confiscated counterfeit jerseys, hats, rings, T-shirts, jackets and other sports-related items totaling just under $100 million in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl.

Super Bowl merchandise sidewalk sales
A street vendor sells Super Bowl merchandise Friday in Inglewood.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

James Curry, a spokesman for Homeland Security Investigations, said people may have confused intellectual property enforcement with immigration enforcement.

“The Super Bowl is one of those places where you’re not allowed to conduct any ICE immigration enforcement action whatsoever,” he said.

Street vendors interviewed Friday in Inglewood said some of their merchandise was legitimate, pointing to Rams hats and jerseys. Much of it, however, was not. One vendor acknowledged that a shirt showcasing Sunday’s Super Bowl halftime act was reproduced from promotional content.

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On Friday, the vendor had set up several tents and hung shirts that read “Who Dey,” the catchphrase of Bengals fans, and Rams battle cry “Whose House?” along a fence at a strip mall. He said he had not been bothered by law enforcement recently.

“It doesn’t seem worth it to have all these police vehicles and cops take down a couple of sellers,” said the vendor, Romell, who would not give his last name for fear of being shut down for lack of a permit. “I don’t get it.”

At a gas station in the West Park Terrace neighborhood, which borders Inglewood, a vendor did steady business in Super Bowl LVI and halftime show T-shirts for $10 to $15 and Rams jerseys for $70.

The items included fake jerseys, jackets, hats, rings, souvenirs and tickets, officials said.

Feb. 11, 2022

In 15 minutes on Friday, he sold eight shirts, for a total of $100.

“I’ve been coming to this guy for years because he sells quality products, and you don’t have to overpay,” said Inglewood resident Dwayne Brown.

Renate Lopez said she was happy to support a local vendor.

“The whole city is excited about this Super Bowl, and we want to buy shirts and other stuff,” she said. “I don’t see this as doing anything wrong.”

The vendor, an Inglewood native who would not give his name because he lacked a permit, said he has been selling at the location for 17 years.

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He did not respond to questions of whether his merchandise was legitimate and said he had not been bothered by the police “in a while.”

“Whenever they do harass me, I ask them, would they rather I broke into homes or stole cars or just sell T-shirts?” he said. “We’re all just trying to make a living, and this is an important weekend.”

Times staff writer Brittny Mejia contributed to this report.

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