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Roadside Raheem Survives Cyber Monday

by Allan Appel | Dec 6, 2013 2:16 pm

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Posted to: Business/ Economic Development, Wooster Square

Allan Appel Photo The long underwear came out. So did the mittens, gloves, and warm socks. Then the phone accessories and the music.

Yes, the holiday shopping season was getting underway—not just at the malls, not just in cyberspace, but on Grand Avenue.

Raheem Duley was bringing out the seasonal merchandise on three portable tables adjacent to the Ferraro’s Market parking lot and across from the Farnam Courts public-housing townhouses in the Mill River District.

Duley, age 43, put in his years in conventional retails. He has dropped out of the latest retail venues in favor of the one as old as buying and selling itself, the roadside vending spot.

The roadside report from Grand Avenue: It’s still possible to hold on to the old ways. But it’s getting together.

Duly said sales of his products—including keep-you-warm items like long underwear ($11)—have dropped for the year and for the last quarter.

Duley, who worked ten years managing a store in New York City and six more as a manager for Wendy’s International, ascribed his dip to the general dip in the economy.

Still, as the retail season kicked into gear this week, he was enjoying himself. That’s why he left his previous jobs, secured a vending license for his goods, and hired someone to help with set-up every day while he deals with his customers.

“I’m a people person,” he said.

A day after Cyber Monday, Duley arrived on Grand Avenue, as he does six days a week, at about 10 a.m. in his 1995 Chevy Tahoe. He began a routine he has followed for eight years: He cleaned litter and leaves from in front of his vending location, set up tables, hauled out his merchandise from a dozen large plastic travel crates, and display it.

Duley has a valid pedlar/hawker license issued by the city building department at 200 Orange St. He is the only merchandise vendor visible between the central business district and the corner of Grand and Ferry in the heart of Fair Haven.

The city general issues a few hundred valid vending licenses a year. Vendors can set up in any part of town; they often set up near other businesses; they have to set up at least 50 feet from other vendors.

Planners have cited a chronic lack of stores and other amenities for nearby tenants, as Farnam Courts heads for demolition and rebuilding. Part of that plan calls for providing for car-less local folks to shop.

In the meantime, there’s Duley. Still he said, 90 percent of his customers are Ferraro’s shoppers, and only 10 percent from Farnam.

For example, Jason Hines (pictured) was shopping at Ferraro, as he has done for years. Hines drove up from Norwalk to shop.

He took a few minutes to look over Duley’s music offerings—lots of gospel and rap—and ended up buying Big Mike’s That Was My Joint.

Cost: Five bucks.

In the stores you can get a pretty good deal on such music, “but I try to make it convenient,” Duley said.

“You got Marvin C?” another customer asked.

“Gospel?” asked Duley.

“No, a soul singer.”

Duley took out two thick binders bound with blue covers and the customer looked through them. He didn’t find what he was looking for. If he had, Duley might have gone to to his Tahoe, and fetched the CDs from there.

Duley said he buys most of merchandise either in New York or online. The clothing is out on the tables; much of the music is not.

“See that?” said Duley’s associate, a co-owner in the business who did not want to be photographed.

He pointed out a pile of 20 CDs. Ten such piles over a period of ten years had been stolen, as well as many thefts where people examine and then remove the CD, while replacing the case.

“There are no cameras here,” said the associate.

Duley said business was once so brisk four people manned the table. “Two to sell, and two as lookouts,” he said.

A young man walked over from Farnam and bought a $11 pair of long underwear. As he recrossed Grand Avenue in traffic, Duley’s associate said, “These goes don’t want the photographs.”

Almost all of the business is cash, but on occasion Duley does accept a check. Next to clothing, the items he sells most are the phone accessories, and then the music. There was no way under the circumstances to tell whether the music was original or pirated. Several CDs visible appeared to be anthologies.

A good day would be 15 transactions concluded, Duley said.

“If Ferraro’s closes at 6 p.m.,” he said. “I’m out of here at 5:55.”

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