By Wilson Walker

OAKLAND (KPIX) — The city of Oakland said it was going to get serious about enforcing rules for sidewalk vendors at Lake Merritt amid fears that large weekend gatherings could be responsible for the spread of the novel coronavirus. Though there was little evidence Saturday of a crackdown, there were some changes.

“When we got here we found out that we shouldn’t be here,” said Mariah, a lemonade vendor. “But we decided to just come out here and take a risk anyway.”

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No food, no alcohol and no cannabis — that was the city’s refined policy Saturday after many weekends of large crowds and a wave of complaints from people living around the lake.

“Vendors selling all kinds of stuff,” a neighbor told KPIX. “Dancers. Barbecues. Quite, you know, berserk to a certain degree during the covid situation.”

Prior to last weekend, city council members rejected calls for strict vendor enforcement, instead calling for more public education on virus protection. Then Mayor Libby Schaaf signaled a move toward some enforcement, once again citing evidence that social gatherings are driving Oakland’s coronavirus cases.

“These are not just at Lake Merritt, that’s just a very visible place for them,” Schaaf said. “We’re trying to do our part by banning all vending. Sorry, that favorite popsicle cart should not be there this weekend.”

So what did things look like Saturday? Some vendors simply defied the warnings, apparently without consequence. But there were no food trucks and no large barbecue operations. Other vendors said larger operations were perhaps scared off by a round of warnings Saturday morning. There was also some pushback from remaining vendors.

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“So we need to keep this going,” Old School Copes said from his T-shirt stand. “There are other people that have the opportunity and things have been created but we have oftentimes been left out.”

Copes is a legend among Oakland vendors. He says this market is now a vital part of the community.

“We’re in a difficult time right now,” Copes said. “We’ve got a pandemic and we have people that are hurting financially and this is an opportunity for people to earn some money.”

“Honey, that some beekeepers make in Oakland, they’re black beekeepers,” Taylor says, rattling off items she’s purchased from other vendors at the Lakeshore market. “I bought soap that Black people have hand-made. I’ve bought perfumes, all different types of things that Black people make and
they’ve had a chance to come out here and showcase.”

So the vendors are now trying to organize for more of a low-key market, in hopes of preventing any escalation of enforcement.

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“We can’t control everybody,” Copes said. “But we understand the neighbors who live here, they’re part of this community too. We’re all part of this community. We have to find a way to work together, that we can make this safe — control the noise and make people be responsible.”