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Cancellation of San Sebastián Street Fest a blow to OSJ vendors

The San Sebastián Street Festival, celebrated every year in January for four days straight in Old San Juan, will not be held in person this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, eliminating crowds, sales, and limiting the exposure of independent vendors in the historic zone, this media outlet confirmed through several interviews.

This week, San Juan Mayor-elect Miguel Romero confirmed that the festival will not be conducted in-person as has been the tradition for the past 50 years. That means the streets of the walled city will not be lined with kiosks, artisans and live music, as the celebration will be modified into a virtual event that will span several days.

The lack of public will affect street vendors who have historically depended on the festivities to generate income and make up for shortfalls during the rest of the year.

A fruit ice cream street vendor in Old San Juan who identified himself as Polanco.

A fruit ice cream street vendor in Old San Juan who identified himself as Polanco, said sales have dropped due to the “conditions we’re living.” He has benefited from working the four days of prior festivals, since “there are more people strolling the streets.”

Furthermore, he said his business permit only allows sales in a specific area in Old San Juan that isn’t San Sebastián Street, but that hasn’t affected his sales during the festival as people walk to his location to consume.

“For me it’s very important that the festival is celebrated, it generates better results. It has worked for me better when the festival is held that when they aren’t,” Polanco said.

Another street vendor, Tomasina “Mary” Cruz, owner of the El Ángel Sport Kite near the historic El Morro fort, said she will be affected “really badly” economically.

She said her sales volumes also increase during the four day weekend — from Thursday through Sunday — of prior San Sebastián festivities, compared to a normal workday.

Tomasina “Mary” Cruz.

During the festival she usually sells a variety of options — hamburgers, hot dogs, water, Piña Coladas, kites, and beverages, she said.

Meanwhile, Francisco Moscosa, a “piraguagüero,” or snow cone street vendor in that area, said that during the annual event, vendors are able make up for their income shortfalls from prior years.

“Now with the closings and obviously without any type of activity, sales have decreased by 80%,” Moscosa said, adding his sales usually increase more during the festival due to promotions and from having people from different countries taking part in the event.

He is allowed to sell typical candy and “piraguas” on San Sebastián Street — the heart of the street festival that usually marks the end of Puerto Rico’s extended holiday season.

The San Juan municipal government’s decision to cancel the in-person festivities are raising question from street vendors who have questioned how they will generate sales in that modality.

“If the San Sebastián Street Festival happens, what can we do? stay at home and watch it virtually on television? No, I don’t think so. We’d have to wait for the mayor’s say in January,” Cruz said. 

“Not everything can be done virtually, not everything, and you can’t have a virtual San Sebastián Street Festival, that doesn’t make sense,” Moscosa said.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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