Editor’s Note: This story is part of the annual Mosaic Journalism Workshop An intensive two-week course in journalism, for Bay Area high school students. Students involved in the program report and photograph real stories under the guidance of professional journalists.
More than a year after the pandemic shut down the state’s economy, Carolina Vazquez, a food vendor at a San Jose flea market, still doesn’t feel like her business is 100% back up and running again.
When the flea market closed last year, 61-year-old Vazquez not only lost his income, but he also had to throw away most of his merchandise. In February, her sales finally began to stabilize, but they are still not as high as they were before the pandemic. And now his future looks even more uncertain due to plans to close the flea market and build an office building and housing on the site.
Vazquez provides her main source of income for her husband, who is 71, and their three daughters. She received a stimulus check, but even so, she had to dip into savings to make her mortgage payments.
“We survived with what we had,” Vazquez said, speaking in Spanish.
During the closing, she was not able to pay her water and PG&E bills, and ended up paying her dues only last month.
When his stand closed, Vazquez also had to throw away cheese, bread, fish, homemade sauces, candy, and other food items. Then as she prepared to reopen, she found that the prices of goods had gone up and there was a shortage of many of the supplies she would normally buy.
One of Vazquez’s busiest months has always been December due to holiday shopping, but her holiday sales last year didn’t align with previous years. Finally in February, Carolina’s business flourished again, but then came the summer heat, which hurt the business because customers don’t want to move around in 90-degree weather.
Adding to his concerns, Vazquez now fears for his future. In June, the San Jose City Council voted to allow the development of an office complex, apartment buildings and retail store at the flea market site.
Vazquez hopes that the people behind the displacement of vendors will change their mind.
She said that no one has spoken to her about the future of the flea market, and she thinks that the sellers’ voices should be heard when it comes to the topic of flea markets being sold.
“That’s the fight, so we can be taken into account,” Vazquez said.
She has been selling her wares at flea markets since 1989 and says she feels extremely comfortable with other vendors.
“We became family,” she said.
Dali Guerrero Fernández is a budding student at Cristo Rey San Jose Jesuit High School.