Keep it moving

Thursday, March 29th, 2007 | All Things

On a sunny, but slightly chilly Spring day, I came across this busy vegetable market on Forsyth Street in Chinatown, literally in the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge.

Terrific selection and perfectly ripe produce, at a fraction of the price it would command just a couple of subway stops uptown. Earlier this year, SYB clued me into a fascinating NPR feature investigating how it is that Chinatowns around the country are able to offer produce at prices so much lower than mainstream outlets – and in some cases, lower even than wholesale sources. The conclusion: shoppers in these areas typically buy produce more frequently, and primarily for use the same day, so only buy when the fruits and vegetables are at the point of ripeness, i.e., the very point at which the distributors are most desperate to unload their supply, and are therefore most willing to offer deep discounts. By contrast, larger-volume urban/suburban outlets (e.g., chain supermarkets) want produce with shelf life to allow for the largest window of salability. In addition, the larger chains need to maintain a more or less constant supply and variety of stock; smaller makeshift outlets like the street vendors are able to absorb last minute items and in smaller quantities, since they are generally not expected to maintain the same stock supply from day-to-day. Shopping this way requires more flexibility from the buyer, but the trade-off can be tremendous value.

Forsyth Street

Forsyth Street

Forsyth Street

It’s a tough way to earn a buck, though. A 2002 New York Times article offered a glimpse into the vendors’ lifestyle: rising before dawn to spend hours scavenging for leftover produce at places like the Bronx’s Hunts Point Terminal Market. One vendor interviewed for the article described standing in the cold all day, to earn a pitiable $30.00. Meanwhile, city officials pressure the often-unlicensed workers for clogging the streets and attracting vermin in their wake.

And sure enough, by the time I walked by this street just an hour later, all these vendors were packing up their crates (and any hopes for a profitable day) under the glaring, watchful eye of the NYPD.

There are no comments just yet.

Go for it ...