Unless it’s raining hard, he’s at his place on the sidewalk six days a week from early morning ‘til late at night selling fruit he’s arranged on display stands he’s set up on both edges of the sidewalk so that it will catch the eyes of passersby who might buy some of it. Every day, many people walk by his location and that’s just one reason he’s stayed there for as long as he has. He has a lot of regular customers too, and I’m one of them.
I imagine that he pays a fee to the cops for the privilege of keeping his shop (that’s what it amounts to) on that section of the sidewalk, but I don’t think they charge him much, a fair price is all, like they surely must charge all the street vendors. This seems to be the custom all over Seoul and throughout Korea, for everywhere in the nation, you see sidewalk vendors selling all manner of things, from blue jeans, socks, sneakers, plus you see food vendors of all types. Many of the vendors have stayed at the same locations for years, which clearly shows that this arrangement is orderly, which suggests that it must be regulated somehow, and it just makes sense to me that it’s the duty of the local police to see that it’s conducted harmoniously.
About a block down from his space is a vendor who sells potatoes, onions, garlic, radishes, carrots, and fresh ginger root. Even further down is a vendor who specializes in leaf vegetables, leeks. mushrooms, peppers, and fresh herbs. These and a few others are the vendors of the neighborhood but they aren’t without rivals, for within easy walking distance, there’s a big supermarket. Also, a dozen other fruit and vegetable vendors are nearby, and when I walk by their places I look at their produce and check their prices – why not?
Even so, I buy my fruit from him, and not just because he’s close by (but that does make it convenient for me). The fruit he sells is of better quality than what you can get at the supermarket, his prices are in line with the other vendors, plus I’ve been buying from him for a long time and see no reason to buy from others or from the supermarket.
For a street vendor to stay in business, it takes more than just having a good location. Street vendors must have good relations with their suppliers so they can get the best produce possible and at good prices, for there are many vendors within walking distance for customers to choose from, and a vendor will loose customers if he can’t sell them the best produce he can get. Vendors must have the discipline to keep their shops open when their customers expect them to be open, or again, the customers will buy from other vendors.
It doesn’t take a lot of money to become a street vendor, and you see many come and go because it’s easy to get started. The difficult part is to muster the dedication every day to be a good street vendor, and this man selling fruit near where I live does just that, which is why he’s been in business at that same place for a long time.
Today, he had a good selection of bananas, tomatoes, melons, apples, peaches, and some of those grapes that are deep purple (what the Koreans call “Poh Doh”) that just came into season and are delicious. I bought five bananas, two bunches of Poh Doh grapes, a small sack of cherry tomatoes, and four large bright red apples – crisp when you bite into them – that just came into season too. For all of this, he charged me around ten dollars. Like all street vendors, he deals strictly in cash.
His stretch of sidewalk is only a minute from the front door of the building where I live, and going anywhere, I must walk by his space. So three or four times a day, on my way to school or to the subway station or to the supermarket or out for a walk, I look over his produce, taking note of what I might buy from him when I come back home, and I usually buy something.