Illegal Street Vendors
Venice, as in other Italian cities, you're likely to encounter street
vendors--most of them from Senegal or Bangladesh--who hawk counterfeit designer purses,
bags, and (more recently) belts and sunglasses at bargain prices. The peddlers are nicknamed "vu compra" because
many of them use that grammatically inelegant Italian phrase to ask "Do you want
Should you purchase a fake designer product from a street
vendor? The answer to that question isn't simple, but below are some pros and
cons to help you reach your own decision.
ABOVE: "Vu compra" street vendors sell
fake purses and luggage on the Calle Larga XXII Marzo, one of Venice's most
elegant shopping streets.
Reasons to buy:
Counterfeit goods vary in quality, but some are made by
the same same Italian factories that manufacture designer handbags, belts,
etc., using the same
materials, designs, and techniques.
You'll save money--especially if you're good at bargaining,
since the vu compra don't have fixed prices.
You'll be supporting refugees and other immigrants who subsist on what
they earn as street vendors.
Reasons not to buy:
Selling and buying counterfeit goods are illegal, and
you could be fined up to 10,000 euros if the police conduct a sweep and
you're caught with a knock-off. (See our article,
"Fines for Fakes.") This may not
happen often, but if you're the unlucky tourist who gets nailed to set an
example, statistics won't provide much consolation.
As mentioned above, counterfeit products vary in quality. If you can't
tell the difference between leather and plastic, for example, you may discover that your bargain knock-off was
Street vendors obtain their bags through middlemen, and
there's no way of knowing who those middleman are (e.g., the Mafia).
When you purchase a fake from a street vendor, you're
contributing to trademark infringement and tax evasion.
Other things to know:
Most of Venice's street vendors are legal and licensed.
(They're the people selling souvenirs, drinks, fruit, etc. from carts or
stalls.) By "illegal street vendors," we're referring to unlicensed vendors
who sell counterfeit brand-name goods from blankets on bridges or in the
For a fictional view of
the vu compra, read Donna Leon's Inspector Brunetti mystery novel,
Blood from a Stone.
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