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Street Vendors Prepare for Red Line Reconstruction Project

By Wendell Hutson | May 15, 2013 8:38am | Updated on May 15, 2013 2:57pm
 Street vendors are hoping the Red Line reconstruction project increases their sales.
Street Sales
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WASHINGTON PARK — As South Side commuters prepare for reroutes and delays due to the CTA's Red Line South Reconstruction project, street vendors working near the closing stations are gearing up for a move — and hoping for some extra cash.

Street vendors sell everything from socks and T-shirts to bottled water, candy and hats near various stations on the South Side, but when the five-month Red Line project begins Sunday, they said they plan to move to the Green Line station at Garfield Boulevard.

"That's where the CTA will be taking everyone from 95th until they are done with the train tracks," said Don Harper, a 47-year-old vendor who sells towels, socks and candy at the Red Line station at 87th and State streets. "I've been out here for six years and plan to retire next year. But before I can do that I need to make some more money. [And] closing down the Red Line is right up my alley."

Harper, like many street vendors, does not have a peddler's license from the city, but plans to continue selling anyway.

"I'm just out here trying to make an honest living," added Harper, who said a "good" day for him is earning $100. "Down there [at the Green Line station] I could probably double my sales. At least that is what I am hoping."

Only two convenience stores are within a three-block radius of the Green Line station at Garfield Boulevard, giving vendors little competition.

Garland Gantt, 47, has been a vendor for 12 years and already has a table set up next to the Green Line station.

"I sell snow cones, chips, pop, bottled belts, purses, watches. You name it, and I probably sell it," Gantt, a Bronzeville resident, said Tuesday as he waited on customers. "I definitely expect to do more business starting Sunday. Unlike other vendors selling limited items like water, socks and towels, I sell a variety of things, and I even accept credit cards."

Indeed, as customers walked to the corner of 55th Street and Calumet Avenue Tuesday, some paid with their debit cards.

"As long as you are spending $5 you can use your card with me," added Gantt. "And yes, I do have a peddler's license to sell."

Riyad Saleem, a member of the Nation of Islam, does not consider himself a vendor, even though he sells the Final Call newspaper on the street for $1.

"I am not necessarily selling the paper but distributing it and asking for a $1 donation," explained Saleem. "Sometimes I give away papers to those who are unable to make a purchase. I doubt if any other vendors are doing that. Will I go down to 55th Street once the Red Line stops running this weekend? Yes I will, my brother."

Joann Webster, a regular customer of the street vendors, said she hopes they aren't harassed by the police when they move to the Green Line.

"These brothers are not hurting anybody selling their merchandise. I drive through here every week to see if they have something I need, and if they do, I stop to buy it," said Webster, 60.

Steve Mayberry, a spokesman for the CTA, said it would provide free shuttle buses for riders from 95th Street to the Green Line station during the reconstruction, expected to last until October.

Mayberry said he encourages riders to continue using public transportation, but acknowledged that everyone may not, and that means more vehicles on the street.

"More traffic is fine with me. That's how I make my money," said Andrew Westbrook, a 56-year-old South Chicago resident, who has been a vendor for six years. "Before I became a vendor I worked as an air-conditioning repairman. But then I got hurt and could not do the job anymore. I was already selling stuff on the side ... now it is my full-time job. I like working for myself."

James Cosey, 63, has been selling merchandise on the street for 10 years and said those moving to the Green Line for the reconstruction project will likely stick together. 

"We all work together. Most of us sell the same stuff anyway, so it's better to work as a team than to compete against one another," Cosey said. "[There's] enough money out here to go around."