Small-change businesses take big hit from shutdown

August 12, 1994|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Sun Staff Writer

In the streets and the grandstands, the vendors do business in small change -- a few dollars for a beer, a bag of peanuts, an ice cream or a lemonade.

A season goes on, it adds up. It pays for one woman's night school, one man's used pickup truck, a father's diaper bills, another man's entire income.

Hours before the games would end and the small change would cease to flow, vendors were considering their losses.

"It hurts a lot," says Joe Fryza of Essex, who runs a fresh-squeezed lemonade cart at the corner of West Camden and South Eutaw. "I have another baby on the way. You try to get a little ahead."

During the day he installs air conditioners in Toyotas in Brooklyn. His wife is a barmaid in Dundalk. Last night, when he finished work, he hustled out to the ballpark about 5 o'clock to set up his stand, one of three run by members of his family in their second season at Camden Yards.

"We were doing OK," he says. By the standards here, not necessarily those at the Major League Baseball bargaining table in New York. A good night in lemonade is $300 gross, about $40 in Fryza's pocket.

"That extra $40 a night was really helping out, with diapers, baby food," he said. "A bill pops up, you got the spare money."

A few steps down the street where T-shirts go for $10 apiece, a Baltimore woman is figuring she'll have to look for a part-time job to help pay for her graduate school at the University of Baltimore, where she is pursuing a degree in publication design.

"It's going to hurt, no matter what," says the woman, who declines to give her name. "You plan on a whole year of games, and then suddenly they're not going to play. I'm just disgusted about the whole thing."

She puts out a newsletter as a part-time job and has been counting on the T-shirt business to net about $100 a game.

"That's enough for me. If I get $100 a game I'm happy," she says.

"This is the only job I've had all summer," says Adam Barrist, who sells Philadelphia-style soft pretzels on West Camden Street. Every game day he and a couple of other guys in the business drive down from Philadelphia with a load of pretzels. He'll be entering the University of Pennsylvania in September to study political science. A strike wiping out the 25 home games remaining in the season would cost him about $1,000.

The situation is more dire for Roger Shiftlett, who runs three peanut and pistachio stands on Eutaw Street near the parking lots. The nut trade, worth about $250 a game minus expenses, has been his only source of income since he was laid off six months ago from his job as a customer service representative at First National Bank.

A single father of a 5-year-old son, Shiftlett is trying to take this setback in stride. He figures the strike is upon us and he'll just have to find another job.

"It's going to happen. You can't get too stressed out from it."

Dan Higbee, part-time disc jockey for hire, part-time ice cream vendor, is sitting on his cart waiting for the first customers on Eutaw Street. The cart set him back $3,000, his big investment in what he describes as a "nickel-dime business," where a great day's gross revenue is about $450.

"I have no comprehension of the millions of dollars" being negotiated by ballplayers and club owners, he says. He's been counting on the ice cream stand for "general savings. I want to buy a house soon."

Karl Schenk, who with a partner runs two microbrew stands outside and inside the park, is hoping for a short strike.

"From what I've seen we could have had a good September," he says. "Good schedule, and in cooler weather people drink more beer."

He had ordered a supply of French bread and cheese as a free snack for his customers, a way of saying thanks for the patronage in their first year of business.

"We figure it's the last game of the season," says Schenk, who is a computer software designer and analyst by trade.

Ballpark beer vendor Jay Silverman is getting married in September and was figuring on using his beer money to pay for some new furniture, maybe a wedding photographer. Now, who knows.

Silverman works full time as a sales representative for Georgia Pacific, so he's not hurting "as much as some of these other guys."

He's talking about people like Howard Hart, the ballpark's top money vendor who makes his entire living peddling beer in the grandstands. Hart, in his 13th season as a vendor, says he saw the strike coming early in the year and has been saving money.

"I was going to buy a used pickup truck, but I didn't," says Hart, who lives on a small farm in North Carolina, where he grows potatoes, corn, squash and turnips on a patch of ground "as big as the infield."

He says if the strike goes long, he may put to use his associates' degree in recreational therapy and go to work in a nursing home in North Carolina. There are things he can do, he says. The money is only part of the loss to Hart, who has earned a reputation as a master of baseball trivia and a student of the game.

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