Taking advantage of the capital’s lure, street vendors peddle protests and tours – Cronkite News

Allen Reed sells water and ice cream on a hot day outside the Lincoln Memorial, where he says business has been good. (Photo by Neetish Basnet/Cronkite News)

Shawn Bartuti talks to a customer at his souvenir stand at 15th Street and New York Avenue NW, just half a block from the White House. (Photo by Neetish Basnet/Cronkite News)

Allen Reed talks to a customer near the Lincoln Memorial, where he said he could make $1,100 on a good day by talking to hot and thirsty tourists. (Photo by Neetish Basnet/Cronkite News)

Larry Mike sells hats, sunglasses and more from a backpack outside the National Archives. Like other vendors in town, he still manages to sell plenty of Trump and MAGA merchandise. (Photo by Neetish Basnet/Cronkite News)

Allen Reed has a license to sell water in the plaza in front of the Lincoln Memorial, one of Washington’s busiest tourist spots – with enough business that he’s added a partner. (Photo by Neetish Basnet/Cronkite News)

Shawn Bartuti’s booth near the White House caters to all political persuasions, with everything from Trump and Biden merchandise to hats and banners touting Pride and MAGA. (Photo by Neetish Basnet/Cronkite News)

Shawn Bartuti has been a salesman for 25 years, the last three at a location right next to the White House. He said business is generally good, but it gets “really good…when marches and things of that nature come up.” (Photo by Neetish Basnet/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON — Political rallies here almost always feature signs, speeches and chants. There are often heated arguments between the camps. Sometimes there are songs, sometimes there are prayers.

And in the heat of a Washington summer, there’s almost always the upbeat, repetitive chime of an ice cream truck.

Whether it’s someone selling bottles of ice-cold water from a cooler in the summer or selling hats and t-shirts in the winter, when political movements come to Washington, they are invariably followed by a local army of vendors who take advantage of the protesters’ needs. for food, water and souvenirs.

Joseph Pileri, chief legal officer of Mission Driven Finance, said that like “the iconic hot dog stands in New York…or the halal carts or taco trucks in Los Angeles,” Washington has street vendors for the crowds. policies and for tourists in general.

“DC is unique, isn’t it? It is the center of so many protests and rallies,” Pileri said. “DC has a very long history of people taking advantage of large gatherings in places like Black Lives Matters Plaza and on the mall in order to both make money off the presence of all these people but (also) to be able to support … whatever the cause they happen to have been in town ever since.

And there was plenty to be in town in 2022.

Along with the fact that the easing of COVID-19 restrictions meant a return to the regular tourist trade, this year has seen marchers protesting federal COVID-19 vaccination mandates and nurses demanding better working conditions. There was another March for Our Lives to protest another mass shooting, and both sides took to the streets as the Supreme Court considered a case that would lead it to strike down abortion rights.

Phoenix resident Eman Massoud was in Washington this summer demonstrating for gun control, one of many advocates who come to the capital for a cause — and get salespeople to do business in the process. . (Photo by Neetish Basnet/Cronkite News)

Phoenix resident Eman Massoud was in Washington this summer for days of marching, protesting and lobbying for gun control measures through Congress. One morning in June, she stood on a patch of grass in the shadow of the Capitol, listening with hundreds of other activists to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — as an ice cream truck traded nearby .

“I lobbied in Arizona, I was in front of the State Capitol. I marched there,” said Massoud, who was in Washington for the first time. “But I feel like it’s completely different. The environment is so inspiring.

Inspirational, but Washington’s weather can also be overwhelming, as Massoud learned.

“Have good shoes. Because we walk around DC exploring after our rallies,” she said. “So yes, shoes, sunscreen and hydration.”

All of this is readily available from street vendors, who may have a truck, cart, table – or may just work with a backpack or cooler as they follow the crowds.

“They are shrewd businessmen who are nimble enough to take advantage of opportunity,” said Pileri, who has written several academic papers exploring the economics and history of street vending. “But they also help support people’s ability to come out and protest by providing things like food and water on hot days.”

According to district government data, there are 442 approved street outlets spread across the city, but almost half are within a block of the National Mall and the White House, the scene of most demonstrations and rallies.

Shawn Bartuti has been a street vendor in DC for 25 years, including the last three at the intersection of New York Avenue and 15th Street NW – right next to the White House.

“Sometimes it’s really good, though, when marches and things of that nature happen,” Bartuti said. “It’s okay, man.”

Bartuti responds to the political whims of tourists: his cart features Donald Trump flags and MAGA hats. Bartuti is a Republican, but that’s not the main reason his merchandise is heavy on the former president, but only includes a few items with Vice President Kamala Harris.

“It’s a business, to begin with. And two, no one is buying (President Joe) Biden,” Bartuti said. “Have you been walking around town? Have you seen anyone with a Biden hat? Anyone with a Biden bag? You don’t see anyone.

A 2018 report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development found that the average street trader in a major city can expect nearly $26,000 in annual profits.

“Business is good,” said Allen Reed, who sells bottled water outside the Lincoln Memorial. “College just wasn’t for me. You make money at the end of the day.

In Washington, the city requires permits for street vendors to set up shop. Vendors can apply for a license to operate at any of the 76 licensed stationary vending sites and 14 licensed vending locations in the various national parks.

But Pileri said obtaining a street vending license is “onerous, complicated and costly”.

“The vast majority of people selling on the street in DC don’t have a license,” he said. “And as a result, people face police altercations – running from the police or being cited from time to time and having to pay tickets to avoid going to court. And it’s sort of built into the costs of their business.

The cost of obtaining a two-year vendor license ranges from $337 to $447, depending on the district’s sales manual, and that’s in addition to the site license which costs $600 per year.

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But those costs haven’t stopped Reed, who is fired. It recently added a second cooler and its first employee and its prices are unregulated – the hotter it gets, the higher its “peak prices” rise.

Lydia DeTello and a group of Baltimore friends stood outside the White House one Sunday in July, carrying signs supporting abortion rights. As residents of a nearby town, they are regular DC protesters who this time brought their own water. But DeTello said she appreciated the presence of a street vendor selling bottled water in Lafayette Square.

“It’s nice to know that DC people are out there and available, just selling bottled water,” she said. “It could be useful because it is hot, it is July. Every little thing, including hydration, supports movement.

Pileri said the vendors had another goal besides fueling the protests.

“They are important members of the community, they watch the streets,” he said. “They know what’s going on, they’re often the first to see problems happening on the streets to respond to problems happening on the streets. And they really contribute to a sense of vibrancy and liveliness in urban neighborhoods.

But for salespeople, it’s not the cause they support that’s the money it makes. It’s not uncommon to see a seller selling goods in favor of an issue one day and opposing it the next.

While business is good, Bartuti said his merchandise got him in hot water with a few tourists with differing viewpoints. He recalled that when Trump was in office, “they still had a dude in front of the park, just all day, just ‘f Trump’. All the time.”

But for him, it’s part of the business. And part of America.

“I mean, this is America,” he said. “Everyone should be able to have their freedom of expression, believe in any political opponent they want to believe in.”