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Berkeley street vendors shift with summer

By Diwata Conte Special to the Daily Planet
Monday May 28, 2001

Berkeley’s summer personality takes over this week after dormitories have shut down, “fraternity row” parties have ceased, and thousands of students have returned home — many of them, for the last time.  

The Mr. Hyde school-year season —with its youthful activity and unpredictability — changes into Dr. Jekyll’s summer respite. 

For businesses surrounding the UC Berkeley campus, summer is when the money leaves. Many stores cut their hours to compensate for the reduction in student traffic. Students “make” Telegraph Avenue. Now they say it’s quiet and vacant.  

But for many of Telegraph Avenue street vendors, summer is when all the activity begins. Summer means warm, dry weather and street parking for money-laden tourists.  

Some earn the majority of their income during the summer. Other fair-weather vendors migrate to Berkeley only during these lucrative months. 

“I do great in the summer,” said Philip Rowntree, while braiding a beaded jewelry necklace. “I try and work seven days a week. Come June, I love it.” 

He said that he earns 50 percent of his yearly income during the summer. 

Some street vendors are unaffected by the changing demographic. Students and tourists replace each other. It also depends on what they’re selling.  

For Linda Hall, who has been selling on Telegraph Avenue for more than 25 years, it’s a seasonal business. Sales drop from January to May, she said. When students leave during the summer, Hall said sales pick up and peak.  

Many of the vendors anticipate the summer knowing that their sales will go up.  

“Students are not that good for us anyway because they don’t have that much money,” Hall said. “You can’t count on them. We have to count on their parents.” 

Vendors say that money is not the only factor. They are affected by student grumpiness and worries. Vendors say they can feel when mid-terms and finals are on students’ minds through the general atmosphere and lower sales.  

Even if students do buy from the street vendors, they aren’t big spenders. According to Rowntree, students usually buy one item. Tourists buy two or three for their friends.  

Ted Wojack, who has been vending for 28 years, said that tourists will buy these items as souvenirs.  

“They think of tie-dye as a part of Berkeley,” he said.  

While he spoke, obvious out-of-towners considered a psychedelic blue and white T-shirt with “Berkeley” written on it.  

However, the business is also dependent on the weather. Weeks when Berkeley continues raining are horrible for street vendors who must either stay inside, or shelter their displays with tarps or plastic covers. Summer is when they can recover those losses.  

But despite the better season and more sales, none of the vendors dislike the students. Wojack earns most of his money from summer tourists, but the school year has its advantages as well. 

“It’s great when the students are here,” Wojack said. “It’s exciting.”