Al-basta (Iraqi goods displayed for sale on the sidewalk) used to be for the poor. It then became a small business, garnering modest profit. Today, these sidewalk displays generate regular daily profits and compete with the stores and shops around them.
Shaker Ahmed manages two square meters of sidewalk in front of a shop in Hilla, Babel, south of Baghdad. He pays the shop’s owner $3,000 a year to rent the location.
Ahmed laughs at the naiveté of those who think that basta vendors are allowed to sell their goods in front of large stores just because of shop owners’ kindness. He told Al-Monitor, “It is very difficult to have and use an outdoor space, because you have to pay money to the person whose space you want to occupy.”
The relationship between the “sidewalk vendor” and the shop owner depends on the latter seeing customers visit the basta. The more customers, the higher the rent he can charge the vendor. This is true in most Iraqi cities, especially in Baghdad, where goods flood the sidewalks, turning the latter into commercial projects instead of safe walkways for pedestrians.
Baghdad resident Halim Hassan told Al-Monitor that he likes buying goods from basta vendors because of the low prices and the variety they offer.
The bastas are very common during religious occasions and holidays, when traders empty their stock and display their discounted wares to the public.
Ahmed Hassan, a member of the Department of Economic Security in Babel, told Al-Monitor, “The businesses these vendors run are prohibited by law, and they should be removed. There have been several attempts to do so, but they failed because the [bastas] have become a social phenomenon.”