They came for the finds, they came for the deals. The crowd perusing the Downtown Eastside Street Market on Carrall Street in Gastown Nov. 24 was a mix; some walking old bicycles with flat tires, some out for people-watching with coffee in hand, others with their hoods pulled so low it was like looking into a cave to make out their faces.
While the origin of some of the goods on display will never be known as they were rescued from landfill death by a binner, they reflect our disposable society. But this has created a micro economy for those acutely familiar with the city’s garbage schedules and junk days.
An old Pentax film camera perched lopsided on a tripod, a cat carrier next to a wooden bookshelf, rows of shoes neatly lined up and working electronics jumbled with a mass of chargers are just a few of the hundreds of things for sale.
Downtown Eastside resident Lorna Bird, who volunteers at the market that runs every Sunday throughout the year since its beginning three years ago, said she is always amazed by what people chuck into their garbage bins, especially the artwork.
“And once I found six pairs of nylons, unopened, in a bin!” she marveled.
One of the most famous items at the market, also called the binners market, was an ultrasound machine.
“It had paddles and everything,” remembered market coordinator Roland Clarke. “A clinic goes out of business in a hurry, it might’ve been sitting outside, who knows? But it was gone by the end of the day, sold.”
A vendor can rent a tent for $5, but it’s free to bring a blanket to lay on the ground to display the wares.
If a blanket covers the boundary lines chalked on the street, one of the volunteers will nudge the vendor and mention, “Hey, watch your space.”
It may not look like it at first, but there are market rules. “We don’t allow people to sell booze here or meats or cheese,” said Bird. “Yup,” added Clarke, “No weapons, no pornography. And you’re supposed to live in the Downtown Eastside to be a vendor.”
A large sign at the top of the corner of Carrall and Hastings also asks people to help keep Pigeon Park clean, and keep the market family-friendly — no swearing, adult humour or drugs. The sign also includes “No Selling of Stolen Items!” although, according to police, stolen goods sometimes do make their way in.
As the market is run by vendors and volunteers (who do get paid —$3.50 an hour and $7 for those in charge), it is self-policed.
“The thing about this is that it’s empowering people to make their own money in their own way. We don’t impose any rules that aren’t necessary,” said Clarke. “So many other services around here, it’s all about showing up and waiting in line for a sandwich.
It’s not ever run by the people it’s trying to serve. The thing is with the market, everybody’s involved. The wages are so low it’s ridiculous, so you have to really believe in it. And it works because people believe in it.”
The market started June 13, 2010 as a protest against police who were handing out street vending tickets to people selling along the streets, said Clarke, adding that many of the vendors at the market had received multiple $250 fines. “Nobody on welfare can afford to pay that, there’s no way.”
The Downtown Eastside Street Market gives vendors a legal place to sell, thanks to a permit and a $30,000 grant from the City of Vancouver. The money goes to paying the many volunteers; the tents and tables are all purchased through the 50/50 draw as well as coffee and pop sales.
“If you look around at these tents that are set up, these people essentially couldn’t get other jobs,” said Clarke. “Other people in other sectors would look down on them but, well, we build this every weekend. It’s an incredible thing.”
With his individually wrapped bead and leather necklaces carefully spread on a table, vendor Carey Molzel said he appreciates the independence of working as a binner to support his wife and cat.
“There’s not a lot of jobs out there and this gives me the opportunity of being an entrepreneur,” said the soft-spoken man, who said he once found a pile of money in a dumpster (he realized it was counterfeit and turned it into the police). “I find as long as you’re reasonable, it’s good. And this market, it’s one of the best things to ever happen to the Downtown Eastside.”