June 28, 2003

Remember I told you I hate Philadelphia’s “lunch carts”? Well, I’m not wild about the sidewalk vendors either. I feel reassured in that judgment now that I see Tanya Barrientos, among the Philadelphia Inquirer’s best columnists, apparently agrees with me. (“In Philadelphia, Sidewalk Sellers Don’t Have the Goods,” June 28, p. E1.)

Barrientos recently hit the pavement (that’s what “the sidewalk” is called here), and came up, well, pretty much empty-handed.

It’s not as if she didn’t try. Barrientos said she went hunting along “the prime tourist blocks between Eighth and 18th Streets and JFK Boulevard and Walnut Street.” That’s some pretty serious territory -- some 30 square blocks. If there were anything to be found, that’s where it would be. (There are still more vendors east of Eighth St., but that’s Independence Hall territory, and beautiful as the neighborhood is, the peddlers over there are particularly lacking in entrepreneurship.)

Fake Coach and Kate Spade bags got the writer’s spirits up, but not for long. Among the subsequent horrors: “garish flip-flops for five bucks.” Garish flip-flops. Please, Ms. Barrientos, there’s no need to be redundant.

“Philly is just not a good pavement-purchasing town,” writes Barrientos. “A spokeswoman for the city told me it’s partly because the licensing of vendors is stricter here than in other places, such as Manhattan.”

Could be. But I think New York has better sidewalk vendors because it’s closer to where the good stuff falls off of trucks and where the best knock-offs are made by some of the same companies that manufacture the real thing (one of the garment trade’s dirty little secrets).

Regardless, if you’re in Philly and enjoy snapping up sidewalk bargains, save your money. And your time. They’re not even worth a second look.


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