Gotham Gazette

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Selling Jewelry, Spending the Night in Jail

Also, by another street vendor in New York City:
• Selling Hotdogs, Getting Ticketed
by Anwar Hussein

• Pushcart Wars
by Joshua Brustein

Community Gazettes, a look at street vendors in:
Banning Street Vendors from Ground Zero
(Lower Manhattan,
Dist. 1)
From Street Vendor To Small Business
(Flatbush, Dist. 40)
Moving Off 125th Street
(Harlem, Dist. 9)

I have been vending all my life, starting in Senegal, where I sold clothes, mainly those made in the United States. My dad was doing the traveling; he was bringing the merchandise from here or France, and I was selling it.

When I was first in this country I began vending too, this time making my own jewelry and clothing. I was doing festivals, state to state. I went everywhere on the East Coast, and that was good. But what I was doing, I didn’t have any life; I decided to stop. I said no more traveling.

I began to wonder “what can I do in New York?” I looked for other jobs, but they were asking me for [immigration] papers and I don’t have any. So I think, why not go into the street? I see people in the street and I ask them “what do you need to go to the street?” You just need your ID and everything, so I said let me go.

I went to the Department of Consumer Affairs, and they told me that the list has been closed for ten years. But I needed to make a living; I had to take my chances.

Vending is not that good every day, but you can make $200 a week. Even if that’s not okay, it’s better than nothing. And I’m settled; I can go home every day.

Every day I wake early. I am a Muslim, so I wake up and do my prayers really early in the morning. Monday to Friday I go to the gym by 9:30, do the stairs, or do the bike. Then I go to get my stuff from storage.

By 11:30 AM I get to my spot – 12:30 or 1:00 if it’s really cold. I always work at the same place, because it’s close to my storage, and people know me. People come and buy my things over and over.

It takes me an hour to set up. I like to make it look really nice; make the colors right. I put earrings up on a board, put the rings on the table, the bracelets on one side. I feel really comfortable with it. Even if people don’t buy one day, it makes them think about it, and they come back the next day or over the weekend.

I make my jewelry when I’m on my table. When I’m already set up, I get my chair and I make my jewelry.

If it’s cold, I stay until 8 o’clock at night. If it’s summertime I stay out until 11. I need that money, so I stay out. I wake up really early, I live really far, it takes me one hour to get home, so when I get home, I’m so tired I don’t even eat at night, I just get a bowl of cereal, and that’s all.

Since I don’t have a license, the police lock me up, they take my stuff, and I spend the night in jail. I wouldn’t guess how many times that happens. They keep coming, and coming. They are asking me for the license, they know I don’t have it, and I say ‘I don’t have it.’ They say ‘you’re going to have to come with us’, and I say ‘Okay, I’ll come with you. You do your job, I’ll do mine.’

Still, I love what I’m doing. I don’t feel like changing my job. I ‘m really comfortable with it, and I’m free. I’m my own boss.

Besides, can you imagine New York without street vendors? I go to other cities and there are no street vendors and it’s like they have no life. No sunshine.

Aiesha asked that neither her full name nor the spot where she works be revealed, because she vends without a license and does not have legal immigration status.

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