Officials act to better manage Seoul's vendors
ABOUT 8,000 street vendors operate in Seoul, mostly focusing on food, attracting visitors with a wide variety of offerings ranging from Korean traditional desserts to hot meals.
Most of them, however, are illegal, as occupying streets with unauthorised facilities is officially banned in South Korea.
Acknowledging the public's complaints over the overcrowding of the city's major streets, Seoul Metropolitan Government has attempted to reduce the number of vendors.
However, the city has yet to truly crack down on the illegal vendors due to resistance from stallkeepers who claim their "right to make a living".
The illegal nature of the vendors has led to no hygiene inspections of their food.
"As they are illegal, the hygiene monitoring rule cannot be applied," said city official Park Moon Hee, who is in charge of vendor control.
Even if they are legal, food hygiene control is not applicable as the current regulation applies only to food sold in "buildings or constructions".
Rather than attempting to root out the vendors, the city has expanded efforts to legalise them.
In 2007, Seoul Metropolitan Government designated a number of "specialised streets" in the city. It allowed about 700 street vendors, who must follow vendor design and operation rules, to sell food there.
District offices have also carried out initiatives to keep the vendors in check.
The district office of Dongjak-gu, for instance, relocated the illegal operators to a designated street in October last year.
This measure aims to better control the vendors while reducing public complaints over overcrowded streets.
Previously, more than 30 vendors had occupied one of the most crowded streets in the area.
"The new move was a win-win measure as the stallkeepers were allowed to run their business in the authorised spot while the public complaints lessened," Dongjak-gu official Lee Hyun Kang said.
However, public concerns remain over illegal practices of "quasi-conglomerate vendors" who own multiple stalls and sell the spots at a high price.
Recognising this problem, the district office of Jung-gu, which is in the city centre, had vowed last year to adopt a system to allow one person to run only one stall, and to prevent them from illegally buying and selling stalls.
At the same time, the city government is seeking to change the current city ordinance, which does not provide any legal framework for vendor licensing.
But the ordinance change has since been made possible as the central government revised the relevant law in 2014 to legalise food trucks.
"Including the street vendors in the ordinance will allow the (city) to come up with concrete criteria for the street vendor licence, ranging from size of the stall to items they can sell.
"This will help the city limit the number of vendors and better control them," Mr Park added.
THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK