Vending The Unique With Gusto
September 17, 2008 2:17 AM   Subscribe

Street Vendors Who Make Their (Very, Very Good) Livlihood

Looking for stories of people who sold unique, creative, inventive things on the street, at fairs and festivals and made a lot of money doing it.

I read about the Peeler Guy in Union Square. Looking for more stories like his that involve unique items, crafts and anything else that sold like hot cakes - including hot cakes and the like.
posted by watercarrier to Work & Money (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
A little different than a street vendor, but...

A friend of mine made a good living traveling to different cities and setting up a big tent in parking lots to sell tropical plants.

He would get a peddler's license for that city, then rent parking lot space from the local K-Mart or whatever. He ordered a couple semis worth of tropical plants from greenhouses in Florida.

It took a lot of capitalization for the tent, his pickup with trailer to sleep in, and the initial plants, but he made very good money doing it. He started at about 20, and by about 25 he owned his house outright, and had over $100,000 in the bank. I think a good location would profit about $25,000 in a month.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 5:17 AM on September 17, 2008

What you are looking for are pitchmen. A venerable institution.

There are many items being pitched today. Peelers aren't unique, creative, or inventive. What is creative is the pitch, not the item. Invariably the item is worth next to nothing, but the pitch makes the sale.

You might see people pitching magic decks of cards, fuzzy worms which climb all over and do tricks, kitchen gadgets, wire strippers, the magic mouse, oxyclean pads, the hercules hook.

These may seem unexciting but the pitch is everything. Worm or mouse workers can take in $500 to $1000 a day.
posted by splice at 5:26 AM on September 17, 2008

purely anecdotal, but in speaking to the street meat vendor on the corner of 55th and Madison, he says he makes about $75,000 a year. That is a mostly cash business. I assume he is lowballing me too in case I am a tax man which I am not.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:00 AM on September 17, 2008

I did a craft fair once where the guy next to me was selling 2ft-lengths of branch that had been seeded with Oyster mushroom mycelium. He sold out his entire stock the first day of the fair, and spent that night cutting, drilling and plugging a whole bunch more branches.

I also heard tell of a decorative candle-seller who's story was very similar Fuzzy Skinner's friend. Splice is right. Renting a cheap pitch never, ever pays.
posted by Leon at 7:32 AM on September 17, 2008

Renting a cheap pitch never, ever pays.

Leon, are you thinking of a pitch as a place where one sets up shop? Because I'm pretty sure splice meant it in the sense of a sales pitch or patter, which is not, as far as I know, a rentable thing.
posted by mumkin at 8:10 AM on September 17, 2008

mumkin: I am. Re-reading, I think you're right.

To reiterate, a poor location is a false economy.
posted by Leon at 8:19 AM on September 17, 2008

Location is everything, but I was talking about the pitch, by which I mean the sales patter or the act.

You can be sure that the peeler being sold in the video that was linked is nothing special and is worth much less than $5. It's what the pitchman says and how he shows it off that makes the sale.
posted by splice at 9:34 AM on September 17, 2008

You can be sure that the peeler being sold in the video that was linked is nothing special and is worth much less than $5.

Not true! That peeler is the best peeler I've ever had, far superior to any other peeler I've ever purchased at a dollar store or home goods store. When I lost my first one, I mourned it for weeks.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:07 AM on September 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

Well, you're looking at it from a buyer's point of view.

I know how these things work. This guy isn't taking a loss by selling these peelers, and the peelers aren't unique to him. It's a pitch, that's all.

Anyway that's besides the point since it doesn't matter to the question being asked. Sorry for the derail.
posted by splice at 10:23 AM on September 17, 2008

Pedro and Vinny's Burrito Cart in DC. (awful website with sound...)

This guy is right outside my office in downtown DC. He was gone for almost a year, but just this week he's back! He's had lines around the corner every day... one of my co-workers braved the lines yesterday, he (Vinny) said the day before he sold over 200 burritos. Best I can tell there is no 'Pedro'.

FWIW... his burritos do indeed rock. He'll make your burrito while YOU take care of the cash transaction (put your money in the box on the stand, take out your own change), and if you don't know what kind of hot sauce you want he'll ask you how hot you want it and whether you want it smokey or fruity, and he'll make you a custom blend. No one even seems to notice or care that all his burritos are vegetarian.
posted by matty at 10:27 AM on September 17, 2008

Oh... and Vinny's name is actually John.
posted by matty at 10:37 AM on September 17, 2008

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