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Venice > Shopping > Illegal street vendors

Illegal Street Vendors


ABOVE: "Vu compra" street vendors sell fake purses and luggage on the Calle Larga XXII Marzo, one of Venice's most elegant shopping streets.

In 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 to buy?"

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.

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 a rip-off.

  • 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. (Then again, a well-heeled native of Italy once told me that "Tax evasion is the Italian way.")

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 street.

  • For a fictional view of the vu compra, read Donna Leon's Inspector Brunetti mystery novel, Blood from a Stone.

About the author:

Durant Imboden photo.Durant Imboden has written about Venice, Italy since 1996. He covered Venice and European travel at for 4-1/2 years before launching Europe for Visitors (including Venice for Visitors) with Cheryl Imboden in 2001.

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