A teenage girl sat in a foldable chair on the corner of Durant Ave. and Telegraph Ave., a man named Twig with a long, white beard standing over her. Holding a piece of bright red string in one hand and blue string in the other, he braided the girl’s hair, intertwining the colorful strings with locks of hair to create a new look.
Countless people pass by Twig everyday, yet fail to notice him and the items he sells. Those same passersby tend to not consider street vendors as serious merchants. But despite their dwindling sales, Twig and the other street vendors who take up their posts next to him persevere.
Across the street from Twig stood another man with a fraying white beard. His stack of business cards sported the name Jamie Perkins, and he sat just adjacent to some elegant necklaces with handmade pendants. The pendants, made of resin, varied from a troll shaped figure to a colorful bird.
Even further down Telegraph Ave., a middle aged woman named Kelly Shull stood in front of a table full of succulents, greeting customers as they glanced at her table. The different plants had been delicately placed in glass bowls with soil and rocks, creating a beautiful display.
Perkins and Twig have been in Berkeley for over 20 years and both notice that business is no longer booming the way it used to. Perkins explains that there are very few street vendors left, many deciding to move to other locations due to a lack of customers. He believes it’s because the people don’t seem to have as much money anymore, due to a rise in poverty and Berkeley’s weakening economy.
“We all have an inside joke where we blame whichever president is in office for our lack of sales,” Perkins said. “Because [it’s their fault that] people don’t have jobs, and that people don’t have money.”
Walking down Telegraph Ave., it’s easy to notice the buildings that have taken root, mainly the popular stores that sell designer clothes, Cal gear, and other mainstream products. But along the sidewalks are handmade and unique items. And these items are sold by street vendors like Perkins, Shull, and Twig.
“I love this job,” Shull said. “You get such gratification [when] someone buys something that you made.”
Perkins, Shull, Twig and the other street vendors form a closely knit community. They all know each other, and have developed strong relationships because of the many hours they spend together.
“I know all the other vendors on this street,” Twig said. “If one of us has to pee, then we watch each other’s stuff.”
Being a street vendor is no easy task. Sitting on the sidewalk watching dawn turn to dusk requires constant patience. And although it doesn’t always yield a reliable flow of money, it does provide a sense of independence, because each vendor has the freedom to make their own career decisions. According to Shull, it isn’t always the most exciting profession, but it is rewarding in the end.
“You can have zero days, and you can have great days,” Shull said. “But that’s just the rise and the fall of it, and you won’t know unless you come out.”