FORT GREENE — “Are you cool?” shouts 10-year-old Rafael Rivera to car drivers as they pass under the Broooklyn-Queens Expressway in Fort Greene.
His little hands hold out bottles of ice-cold water. Motorists roll down their windows to grab them, passing over $1 bills.
As they drive away, Rafael reminds them to “stay hydrated.”
Rafael is visiting his grandpa from Connecticut and is selling water with his 19-year-old uncle, Devonte, as a summer gig to help his family and earn some extra money to buy video games.
His mom, Tiffany, keeps a watchful eye on him from nearby.
“I think this is a great first summer job for him,” she said. “Water is healthy and is a lot better than the other things kids his age might be selling.”
Rafael is joining the ranks of a roughly 20,000 street sellers in New York City, according to The Street Vendor Project.
The New York City Independent Budget Office states in a report, “Street vendors have been a part of the city’s landscape since the first pushcarts plied the sidewalks of the Lower East Side in the 1860s.”
Rivera and his mother first saw people selling water on the street a few days ago. Wheels started to turn and they checked out the business possibilities. Then, when the latest heat wave hit, they put the plan into action.
They buy three packs of 24 water bottles for $12 in the store. Rafael and Devonte sell each bottle for $1, making the total profit $60 for a four-hour workday. Not to mention the tips.
“People often tip me another $1 because they are so grateful for the water,” he said. “And a police officer tipped me $3 today because he liked the work I was doing.”
Sasha Ahuja, organizer at the Street Vendor Project, said that during the summer months the number of sellers operating in New York City increases.
She also said that with budget cuts to programs for young people and expensive camps that can be unaffordable to those with lower incomes, youth are finding creative ways to spend their summer hours and make some money.
But she is concerned about what she calls the criminalization of young people who are working to help their families with money.
“Some young vendors are fined $1,000 if caught selling without a license,” she said. “Which is unfair because at the same time you must be 18-years-old to apply for a license.”
But for now, Rafael says he is happy with his summer job where he can also hang out with his mom and uncle. He dreams of buying the video game "Call of Duty" and one day being a math teacher.
“And stay cool,” he reminds passers-by.