Vendors long for old days

The Baltimore Sun

Eddie Brooks sold his colorful array of baseball hats, sweaters, pennants and sunglasses during Orioles FanFest at the corner of Camden and Eutaw streets, an area off-limits to vendors during games the past two years.

The event Saturday wasn't an actual contest, so Brooks was able to sell at a spot that will be closed to vendors again come today's Orioles season opener against the Tampa Bay Rays.

The event provided Brooks a brief flashback to the good old days. "If you came to a game in 2003 or 2004, everything was set up. All up and down Camden Street, people were selling pizza, there were umpteenths million hat stands. It was vendors everywhere," he said. "But where they all at now?"

At least a half-dozen vendors have closed up shop for good, according to Brooks, while the ones who have stayed continue to complain of drastic cuts in profits.

Since Opening Day 2006, the city Transportation Department has prohibited vendors from setting up in front of the main entrance to Camden Yards on Eutaw Street because of construction of the city-owned Hilton Hotel.

Vending is also no longer allowed on Camden Street between Paca and Howard streets. About 30 vendors were affected by the move, which transportation officials said was made as a safety precaution.

With the hotel set to open in August, vendors are not optimistic that they will be allowed to return to their previous prime real estate along Eutaw Street.

Joe Markiewicz has sold baseball cards, sodas and water at Oriole Park since 2000. He says that since he was forced to move from the corner of Camden and Eutaw streets, he has lost 70 percent of his business in each of the past two seasons.

Markiewicz now sells on the corner of Pratt and Howard streets, where he says the foot traffic is a fraction of what it used to be at his former spot.

"The whole year, I barely made $3,000," Markiewicz said. "I'm down to $40, $50 a game. Some games I lose money."

Other vendors have relocated to the plaza area on the corner of Paca Street and Washington Boulevard, the opposite direction for fans who walk from Harborplace to the stadium.

Markiewicz said vendors experienced similar relocations during construction work on the Sports Legends Museum along Camden and Howard streets. The museum opened in May 2005.

"Then they allowed us to come back," Markiewicz said. "With the hotel, I'm hearing they're not going to let us go back over there. I'm really about to give it up."

City officials say no decision has been made.

Alvin Gillard, director of the two-year-old Street Vendors Board, said the board was created to determine who can be approved for licensing in the city and what can be sold. It replaced the former Board of Licenses for Hucksters, Hawkers and Peddlers, which had approved downtown vending since 1974.

Gillard, also the director of Baltimore's Community Relations Commission, said the board is not sure how it will handle many of the vendors' desire to return to the Eutaw Street entrance after the hotel is finished. He said the board is focusing instead on carving out individual spots for each vendor using a seniority system.

The eight-member board has representatives from the city's director of finance, housing and community development, mayor's and City Council president's offices.

Asked about the vendors' reaction to the new board, Gillard said, "It's been a mixed bag. Some folks welcome it because they realize there is a need for order.

"Then there is skepticism on how you're going to protect the interest of those who have been out there as opposed to folks who are just coming in. And there is always that skepticism as to whether government can get it right at all."

Martin Greenbaum has sold hats, jerseys, sweat shirts and other apparel since the ballpark opened in 1992.

He says he's down about 30 percent in sales each of the last two years, which he says is due to having to relocate to Pickles Plaza from Eutaw Street. The Orioles' 10 straight losing seasons and subsequent declining attendance have not helped matters, according to Greenbaum.

Greenbaum said he is pushing for a forum between the vendors and the board to air grievances.

"We need to discuss the things that are going on," Greenbaum said.

Brooks, looking over his rows and rows of Orioles hats during FanFest, said the vending board can make good with the vendors fairly easily.

"Honestly, the best thing they can do is tell us we can set up right in front of this new hotel. And make this the vending strip again," Brooks said.

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