As we waited in line to get a spot, one of the more seasoned Eastern Market vendors guaranteed me that the one thing I would learn today was what it was like to be on the other side of the sales counter. Was she ever correct about that!
I showed up at around 7:30 on a very cold, gray Saturday morning. As I attempted to unload my card table and chairs, an authoritative voice (that of another vendor) told me I could only park there (in the public street) if I had a permanent place. I quickly got my things out of the trunk and moved the car. That was not an auspicious start.
As I walked back to the craft sales area, I noticed a line of chairs stretching from the main door. None of them had a person sitting in it, but I could sense they were significant. My first vendor friend explained the chairs were to establish an order for space assignment, so I put my chair at the end of the line. Soon thereafter a Hispanic man put a brick next to my chair, explaining that he had no chair. I spoke to him in Spanish and offered him the use of my second chair to hold his place in line.
My new friend gave me a rundown on the squabbles that are currently plaguing the market. It seems some vendors are not happy with the way space is assigned, others are irate when new people offer goods at lower cost, and the vegetable vendors would like to take over the craft area. I hoped not to offend any of the warring parties.
It was like a UN of people there to sell everything under the sun. There were Asians, Hispanics, Africans, and people speaking a variety of other languages. I was one of the few Caucasians. It was obvious that for many of them, this was their livelihood.
As we waited to be processed at 8:00, the head guy explained that any first-timers would automatically get last placement, so I really hadn't needed to show up so early with my chair. At 8:30 a senior vendor asked to look at the “wares” of us first-timers to see if they were acceptable. By 9:00 I had a small space for my table and goods. It was actually just opposite the consignment shop on 7th Street.
Whereas some vendors had elaborate tables, stands, and tents which required time-consuming assembly, my simple table was ready in about 5 minutes.
The first dilemma came when I realized vendors had no bathroom at the market. My newest friend advised me to buy coffee at Port City Java across the street, thereby entitling me to the use of their bathroom. For $2, it seemed like a good solution. I asked a nearby vendor to keep an eye on my table while I bought my right to a bathroom.
My greatest good fortune was spotting a member of my piano group trekking up 7th Street with her morning baguette. I hailed her and within a few minutes had made my first sale. I offered her a discount as a friend which she politely declined, paying full price.
My second sale was also to a good friend who took the above picture. At that point I set my goal for the day of selling something to a stranger.
Several hours later I had sold items to not one but two strangers, for a grand total of 4 sales and $87. Subtracting out the $25 fee, that was a whopping $62 for a day’s work. Oops, I forgot to subtract out the cost of the materials. I’m sure I actually turned a profit on the items sold and I do have a substantial inventory left.
Interestingly the only people who were the least bit interested in what I had to sell were over 50 or under 10 years old. The 50+ crowd were however mostly “just looking” and the children were dragged off to the jewelry and purse stalls by their parents.
I had already determined that I really suck at selling anything, but I felt better when I struck up a conversation with the African guy next to me, who said he hadn’t sold any jewelry all day. Many of them called it a slow day and said business was definitely off.
But by 3:30 I was freezing cold to the point where it was difficult to walk when I stood up. I was quickly starting to evaluate my desire to return for another go next week, when it is likely to be even colder.
Several vendors stopped by my table to tell me not to be discouraged and to invite me back again. I really liked these hard-working people who brave the cold and rain and snow Saturday and Sunday every weekend to sell their wares. But I’m thinking the Spring may be a better time to try again.
What an educational day, even if it was painfully cold. Although I am now sure I was never cut out for retail, I do have a better appreciation of just how hard it is to sell a product of any kind. My hat goes off to independent merchants.