Vendor of the Week
Vendor profile - William Braxton
William Braxton says that before he started selling Real Change, “I was getting nowhere real fast and taking a long time to get there besides.” Ninth and Mercer isn’t the easiest location, though. “It wasn’t a matter of standing out like a store vendor and waving at people as they walk by and saying, ‘Hi, how you doing?’” These people were in cars. “You have to be persistent and consistent. They have to see you enough to realize you’re not just there, you are there.”
William grew up in New York but was in Tallahassee when he was offered sales manager training on the West Coast; he ended up with a job in Seattle. It was like moving to a different planet. “Is this ‘Star Trek’?” He was shocked to realize that people were afraid of him. “Trying to hold onto your purses and locking your doors — growing up in New York, we didn’t have that.” He didn’t even see it as racism. “They’re not afraid of me [personally]; it’s what they’ve been told. What they don’t want to understand.”
Of course, there had been racism in New York in the early 1960s. “I didn’t understand. And people wanted me to understand. I would go and ask my parents. I would ask my brothers and sisters. And they told me, ‘Well, this is what it is, how it is.’ And I’d say, ‘Oh, my God, is that stupid!’ I wouldn’t have made it in the Jim Crow era. I’d be on the most wanted list.”
William likes it out here now. “Real Change has given me opportunity to touch base with a lot of people that normally I would not have.” But, even better, “Real Change has afforded something cool. And that’s not being homeless anymore.” Right now he’s in a transitional shelter. “I can be there forever.”
He expects to get help to enter permanent housing, which he’ll be able to pay for thanks to SSI, money from Real Change and selling hot dogs outside downtown nightclubs. That second job makes for a long day: He leaves the shelter early in the morning to sell papers and sells hot dogs until 3 a.m. a couple of times a week. But at “five dollars a pop,” he can make three or four hundred dollars in a night.
His goal with Real Change is to sell a thousand papers a month: “I would be sitting very pretty.” That goal took a hit when the city started redoing the Mercer Corridor. “Things were blossoming, and then two-and-a-half months ago it just, Bam! Knocked me out.” A lot of his customers are taking other routes. He’s looking forward to when they come back.
William appreciates all the efforts people make to show that what he’s doing is worthwhile. “If there’s a downside to things, it’s always leading to the upside. You only get out of it what you put into it. I’m not through putting into it, and when I’m putting in, there’s no end to the outcome.”
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