Next time you turn up your nose at a sweaty street vendor in tattered jeans hawking his wares on a downtown Washington street corner, think before you turn away.
He -- or she -- may be making more money than you.
A recent informal survey of pavement peddlers here reveals that many rake in hundreds of dollars each week, particularly when they find one of the few choice, consistently lucrative sidewalk spots in the heart of Washington's downtown business district.
"I clean up," said Ken Davidoff, who sells solar powered beanies in front of the Farragut North Metro station at Connecticutt Avenue and L Street NW. "I've sold over 700 since I started. I buy 'em for $5 and I sell 'em for $10. . . . They cost $18 in Georgetown."
Kareem Samad, who works six hours a day selling incense, natural oils and wood carvings at 14th and K streets, says he takes home about $300 a week. "Before, when I was a presser in a laundry, I got about $200, and that was with overtime."
David Swetzoff displayed his art deco jewelry on a velvet topped table stationed across from Davidoff, the solar king, and said.
"I don't want to print the dollars and cents (he earns) because then everybody with half a brain will think they can get into street vending, but I will say that I can work for two months in the summer and make as much as these secretaries make all year."
While some vendors claim they make little or no money, the rapid proliferation of hawkers' stands this summer indicates there is money to be had on the sidewalks, especially for the savvy entrepreneur.
Officials at the D.C. Department of Licenses, Investigtions and Inspections who regulate the vending trade cannot say for a certainty if the demand for vending permits has increased this summer over last summer. But "we have noticed how hectic it's been at the counter since late May" said Joe Richards head of the department's business license office.
Vendors must pay $10 to $50 year for vending licenses, depending on the kind of merchandise they are selling. They also are supposed to pay an estimated 5 percent of their gross receipts in taxes to the city.
Food sellers must pass city health inspections and all vendors are restricted to certain specified areas of downtown. In addition they must abide by various restrictions on the size and height of their vending stands and keep them at specified distances from each other to prevent sidewalk cluttering.
Despite the restrictions many vendors see themselves as relatively free to come and go and, perhaps more important, free from the burdens of office rent utilities and maintenance.
Solar-man Davidoff decided to venture into the streets when he could not find a summer job paying more than the minimum wage. He also wants to buy a car at the end of the summer to take back to Tulane University in New Orleans.
When he saw a set of solar hats for sale in his father's Bethesda pharmacy earlier this year he said he knew he had his product.
"Look it's tomorrow's style today. They really are solar powered," he yells to bemused lunch time onlookers. He demonstrates how the whirling red propeller on the yellow plastic construction worker-style hat stops spinning when his hand covers the tiny solar energy collector panel on its crown.
He explains his success this way:
"I provide a product that the business people out here are going to buy. The tourists don't want it, but these lawyers out here will buy it for their kids."
At 25, David Swetzoff is a veteran of five summers of vending, which interests him only, he says, because it gives him an excuse to spend time overseas importing jewelry and other goods.
"I started at Wharton [School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania], but I took time off and got into importing," he said. "This is the best way to sell and I work only for myself. I can pull in $500 a week."
Not all the streets of the city are paved with money, however. Experienced vendors explain that the difference between good and mediocre spots can mean hundreds of dollars per day, hence the intense competition that drives some of them to grab a favored sport on the street as early as 3 and 4 a.m.
Cally Sarris, 24, the mother of three, operates her hot dog stand at 17th and L streets in the heart of downtown. Even on a good day, she takes in only $40 to $50, and most of that goes for meat, bread and paper supplies.
But Sarris is undeterred. "I'm sure I'll find ways to build up my clientele," she says. "I give personalized service."
Despite the low public esteem in which many vendors feel they are regarded they profess pride in their work, especially at owning their own businesses.
"People think we're like prostitutes because we're out on the street all day," said Debbie Petrovic at her belt buckle stand on K Street, "but we're good people, even if we are scruffy."
"They think we're crum," said Davidoff, "but they don't realize that you can make thousands. I'd like to tell that to the white shirters."