Orioles' opening day - Vendors not selling optimism

Daily Record Business Writer
April 6, 2009 8:01 PM

The weather may have cleared for the Orioles home opener against the Yankees on Monday but the business forecast was still gloomy from vendors who rely on the ballpark for sales.

Vendor Jay Smith, of Philadelphia, said he usually sells ‘a couple hundred’ soft pretzels at an event, ‘but Orioles [games] are usually below average for me.’“I’ll normally sell a couple hundred [pretzels] at an event, but Orioles [games] are usually below average for me,” said Jay Smith, a Philadelphia-based pretzel vendor who has been in the business for nearly a half century.

“The only games that are good are the ones against the Yankees and Red Sox,” he said. “Otherwise it’s practically a wash for me to come down here and do this.”

The sentiment was echoed up and down Howard and Conway streets outside Oriole Park at Camden Yards Monday afternoon as vendors hawked food, t-shirts and souvenirs to fans making their way to the ballpark.

“The Yankees and Boston — they’re the ones that keep us in business,” said Lauren Edgar, who works at one of Stadium Caps’ two stands on Howard Street.

Most vendors, however, said that the team’s performance on the field rather than the recession will directly affect their sales. Vinnie Wheatley, who has operated a food stand on Conway Street for the last eight years, said he had considered the possibility that the vendors like him outside the ballpark may see a bump in business from fans looking to save money on ballpark food. But he said he isn’t counting on that.

“We’ll see how it goes — last September I only did four games, it was that bad,” he said, referring to a month when the Orioles’ attendance high was 21,712. “I was spending more on ice than I was making a profit on some games, so I had to cut back.”

Wheatley, who named his 9-year-old son Camden Eutaw after the ballpark, said he shoots for selling at games against opponents that draw well and for weekend games to make his side business profitable.

See related Opening Day video.

“It wasn’t always like that,” he said. “Eight years ago when I started, every day was like Opening Day.”

Smith said he thought the recession might create more competition from vendors selling items without a permit.

“The economy is not the best and people are desperate, so you’re seeing more people around here with shopping carts filled with stuff,” he said.

But not everyone is as glum about their prospects for this year’s sales.

Click here to access rest of story from TDR or e-mail author for full text.