Street merchant on Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood, California

Working for a living

Street merchant on Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood, California
Street merchant on Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood, California

West Hollywood is the epicenter of nightlife in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. It’s one of the few places in Southern California that stays awake past midnight. There are three main thoroughfares where all the excitement happens: Melrose Avenue, Santa Monica Boulevard, and Sunset Boulevard.

And on Santa Monica Boulevard, you will find a rare fixture for West Hollywood – a street merchant selling his wares alongside a bank branch. He is strategically placed next to the branch’s ATM machines, where people have already taken time to slow down (and where they may easily access cash). He is almost always there – day and night, always at the same spot.

He told me that he used to have a shop, but he doesn’t any more. A lot of the things he sells, he has collected from yard sales and other places. Mostly, he sells silver bowls and knick-nacks, some art work made from iron, along with lots of cheap sunglasses. He also sells his own creations: beaded necklaces.

Business has been bad, he said. But he’s been at that spot for “a very long time.”

He can only set up shop when there’s a curbside parking spot available right in front of his selling spot. He has a worn-out van. Without that spot, he may not set up for the day, because he can’t park farther away and drag all his supplies there. It takes him 45 minutes to set up, he said.

For a street merchant, he is among the quieter ones – seemingly in his own world. He doesn’t engage passersby in conversation or even eye contact. Most people walk by without noticing him and without buying anything.

For most of us, making a living is easier than this. For some of us, it’s harder. This street merchant sits somewhere in between those two poles. He is a bellwether of sorts. A sign of good economic times, or bad ones – as when a passerby admired his iron sculpture of a dog playing the cello, but said, “I’m broke.”

The street merchant seemed unfazed by this – almost as if he expected to hear it.

As is his routine, at some point in the night he will disappear, awaiting the return of another day to hopefully make a sale. He will disappear so quietly, I wonder if anyone will notice.

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