Street Sense Recruits Celebrity Vendors This Week

Councilmember Yvette Alexander and City Paper reporter Aaron Wiener raised money for the street newspaper Wednesday.
Aaron Wiener, left, and James Davis at work Wednesday.

DC Councilmember Yvette Alexander and Washington City Paper reporter Aaron Wiener took an hourlong shift Wednesday selling Street Sense, the newspaper about issues that affect the homeless and the poor. Both were taking part in Street Sense‘s “Vendor Week,” which celebrates the paper’s vendors and recruits guests to help.

On Wednesday afternoon, Wiener worked on 17th and L streets, Northwest, and Alexander worked at 13th and G streets, Northwest, near Metro Center. The councilmember had set a $100 goal, Street Sense marketing and communications director Jennifer Okosun tells Washingtonian, and exceeded it by donating a dollar of her own. Wiener raised $53 and says he did not contribute his total (“I do buy it regularly,” he says).

DC Councilmember Charles Allen will take a shift Friday at 11 AM in the same spot Alexander worked. Vendor Week runs through Sunday, and Okosun says she has a full schedule of social-media promotion planned. The promotion is new for Street Sense, but not for the International Network of Street Papers, a trade association in which the DC paper is now more active than it was before, Street Sense executive director Brian Carome says. Vendor Week is a big deal for INSP members in other countries, where Australian executives, Greek authors and actors, and the Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke have hawked papers. (Canadians have sold hats.)

Carome says Wiener got on the organization’s radar when he wrote a blog post defending Street Sense vendors against a plan floated in a piece of sponsored content in The Guardian that proposed turning them into human traffic cameras. Street Sense didn’t start trying in earnest to get celebrity vendors till this past Monday, asking US Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, among others, to participate. “In their defense, we joined the campaign pretty late,” Carome says.

If you’re interested in helping out next year (probably in February), you can contact Street Sense, Carome says. Until then, he suggests, anyone interested in helping Street Sense could strike up a conversation with one of its vendors, who would “welcome the opportunity to have someone join them on the corner and see what it’s like for an hour.” Street Sense‘s vendors, he says, have “realized there is power in telling their story.” Just walk up to a vendor and start a conversation, he said.

Wiener was paired with James Davis, who has been a vendor for 11 years. “The first thing I noticed was that I was pretty useless, because he’s much better than me,” Wiener says about moving papers alongside Davis. He says he met a surprising number of readers who wanted to discuss things he’d written. Most of the interpersonal transactions on the corner Wednesday were pretty nice, he says: “There’s a lot of sympathy with the product and the cause. It’s not quite like standing on the corner and pitching, I don’t know, the City Paper.”

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