While Chile can be considered a first-world country, there are still many aspects of daily life and commerce, which could not be found in most first-world countries, that are allowed to flourish thanks to cultural traditions and the absence of regulation. One of these is the prevalence of small street vendors, who sell pretty much anything they can carry in a bag, cart, or "triciclo con carro delantero" (rough translation, tricycle with a front cart). Usually just called triciclos, these are an easy way to both transport and display whatever you're selling (pictures in slideshow).
There are very few restrictions on this type of commerce—the main thing is that some businesses will put up signs saying that they don’t want vendors to set up on their property. However, this is pretty rare. I’ve seen people selling car washes from the front of a Banco de Chile, women selling chocolates right at the entrance of a Lider (a popular supermarket chain), and students selling art, jewelry and used books on the steps of churches. This kind of entrepreneurship is common in most cities, and is an easy and accepted way to buy and sell a huge variety of goods.
Some people will set up their wares on cardboard boxes or a blanket spread on the sidewalk, and some of them will walk around selling out of baskets, bags, shopping carts, triciclos, or just their hands. In some cities this is more common than others; in Temuco, where I currently live, just about every block in the center has vendors of one kind or another. Despite the seemingly slap-dash method of selling stuff off of blankets or boxes, there are many places that are occupied by established vendors who use this method, particularly by older Mapuche women selling fresh produce, honey, eggs, and tortillas de rescoldo. In most cities in Chile, you can find people selling all this as well as small electronics, SIM cards, kitchen items, dried and fresh herbs, assorted flowers, live chickens and geese, snacks and sweets, toys, perfume and makeup, and much more.
Another method, used mainly by people who are either part-time vendors or who simply have less to sell, is to display items for sale on a tray or in their hands as they walk around and call out the names of what they’re selling. Sometimes they'll even hop onto buses and sell nuts and candy to the passengers. Even though the smaller vendors may only make the equivalent of a few dollars a day, it's still enough to live on in Chile. In many cases the vendors are the middle-men for larger companies, but quite a few of them have their own small business, mostly the people who sell empanadas, anticuchos (meat grilled on a stick), sopaipillas, palomitas (sweet popcorn), tortillas de rescoldo, and other home-made treats. As I once heard someone say, "you have to be either really stupid or really lazy to not make money in Chile."
Thinking about visiting or moving to Chile? Feel free to contact us here with questions or comments!