The Made in America music festival, featuring some of pop music’s biggest names, boosted the city’s side hustle economy as Philadelphia vendors took advantage of thirsty crowds to make some extra cash or ease dire circumstances.
In the summer, bottled water is a hot commodity, especially during major events where onsite vendors tend to price-gouge attendees looking to hydrate.
Warren Kale, 42 of North Philadelphia, was among the first along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway Saturday, selling cold bottles of water for $2, as his wife and 2-year-old daughter sat behind him on a bench.
Vending under the radar has been Kale’s main source of income since he was laid off in December. He said the family has faced some financial hardships and is now homeless.
Kale has been saving up to buy the water, packed to the brim of a large recycling bin, since mid-August to prepare for the two-day festival.
“People from all over the world come in,” he said. “You get to communicate [with] and meet people and shake hands and it generates money … It’s money for everybody.”
Farther along the path at Logan Square, Saadiq Garner, 29, of North Philadelphia, sold water, Gatorade, and rain ponchos. The water was $1, Gatorade, $3, and the ponchos were $10.
He’s been coming out to Made In America every year since 2012 to take advantage of the large crowds to make extra money.
A car salesman by trade, Garner showed off his selling skill with catchphrases such as “Why pay 5 when it’s cheaper outside?” and “Who wants to get highhh-drated?”
Only a handful of vendors worked the area throughout the day as the Department of Licenses and Inspections cracked down on vendors without the proper permit. Vendors near the festival entrance were warned to leave the premises. If they didn’t take heed, city officials were ready to confiscate their wares.
Unlicensed T-shirt vendors were nowhere to be seen, and those selling water didn’t go beyond Logan Square.
Though he was a distance away from L&I surveillance, Garner was prepared for an encounter.
Instead of using a cooler, which can be expensive to replace over and over again, he kept his bottles iced-down inside of a cheap plastic bin.
Should L&I confiscate them, he said the loss would be minimal since each bottle is mere pocket change — the cost of doing business.
While Garner showed no interest in getting a proper license, Kale said if business continued to stay strong, he’ll pay the $330 to go legit. Both he and his wife already have commercial activity licenses.
In between belting out catch phrases, Garner said side hustles such as his and Kale’s provide a great opportunity for people in dire straits to make a profit and begin to regain some control over their situation.
“It’s a lot of people that’s out here, they stay at the gas stations, they sleep on the street, they beg for money,” he said. “It’s simple things that you can do to make a little extra money. You just got to go out and get it.”
Once the music wrapped up, business boomed for Kale and Garner. The sidewalks were overrun with festival-goers either ready to call it quits for the day or search for the next adventure in the city. And many of them seemed pretty thirsty.
In between transactions, Kale said it was “a good day.” He found that dropping his price to $1 helped speed up sales.
As for Garner, he didn’t want to speak too soon.
“You don’t count your money until the end of the day,” he said.