By Gregory Boudreaux, StreetWise
I was born and raised on the West Side of Chicago in K-Town and I was introduced to StreetWise through my fiancée, who became involved with StreetWise after we got together. I’m a relatively new vendor and it’s been about six months since I started at StreetWise. I vend at two spots downtown, splitting my time between State and Madison and State and Monroe. I love my vending spots because of the diverse population that I get to interact with on a daily basis – people from all walks of life.
I enjoy the unpredictability of State and Madison; you never get the same people in the same week. My other location at State and Monroe is frequented by a lot of people on their way to and from their jobs. I like the variety of State and Madison but at Monroe, I get to see the same folks each day and build relationships through consistency, which I consider the most important part of vending. By being in the same place consistently, you get used to your customers and they get used to you, and establish trust. However, I like to think that I get to experience the best of both worlds by splitting time between my spots.
Most of the time, I have a great time selling but one of my biggest challenges is dealing with panhandlers who get angry at us vendors for selling. I try to minimise altercations with them in order to create a more peaceful environment for all of us. I think it’s important to realize that we, as vendors, don’t own the street and therefore need to act with courtesy and decency to all. Generally, customers gravitate to us when we sell and I think the fact that we offer them a service in exchange for their time and money works in our favor.
Initially, I didn’t have much direction or drive but a fellow vendor named John motivated me to keep going and to try to become the best salesman I can be. One of the things he said to me that has stuck in my mind for all these months is, “You get out what you put in.” I try to remember this every time I go out to sell.
Through my work with StreetWise, I strive to build up my own financial independence. In addition to the communication skills that I have learned, I have begun to emphasize the importance of dress and decorum in my role as a vendor; I dress nicely and treat this like any other job. Sometimes people will tell me to “Get a real job,” but I don’t let it get to me because this is what I do and I love it. I hate to be judged and it turns my stomach when people try to classify me as something that I’m not. However, I don’t let what people say distract me from my goals, which I strive towards every day.
When I’m not selling, I enjoy playing basketball in my Over 40 League and I love to read. I’ve read over 500 books, and I love to read because it can take you to a completely different world with the turn of a page. My favorite book of all time, as well as the book that got me interested in reading in the first place, is Malcolm X by Alex Haley. I also love courtroom dramas. I’m grateful for these small pleasures in my life, which help me decompress and move forward in a positive and responsible way.
I don’t know what the future holds for me and it’s easy for me to allow uncertainty to get the best of me. I know that, with the help of the folks at StreetWise, I’ll continue to grow and adapt to the changing world around me. I now know that, whatever comes my way, I have folks in my corner!