Apartment Bodegas and Padlock Vendors: Creative Ways to Make a Buck

Reporter Zaira Cortes of El Diario La Prensa introduces us to some Latinos in New York who have used a bit of ingenuity to make some extra money. From an apartment bodega to a homemade food cart, read about the unconventional and unique manners in which they try to earn some more dough. The article is translated from Spanish below.

There is an old saying that some Latinos carry out down to the letter: During times of adversity, people develop talents that would otherwise remain hidden. Whether facing unemployment or looking for a part-time gig, Latinos have come up with ingenious ways to earn extra income by working uncommon jobs and using unusual strategies.

A Home-Based Bodega

This small bodega is located in an apartment in Elmhurst, Queens. (Photo by Zaira Cortes/EDLP)

A Mexican family in Elmhurst, Queens realized the advantage of transforming the living room of their apartment into a small bodega, allowing their customers to avoid the inconvenience of going out into the street beneath a boiling sun to get the supplies they need.

In the comfort of their own building near 80th Street, dozens of residents go to the second floor to buy basic necessities.

“We’ve been shopping here for a number of years,” said María Guadalupe Reynoso, 29, a resident of the building for more than a decade. “We don’t have to leave our air-conditioned building to get groceries; the community in this building is very fond of the family’s store.”

Kitchen on Wheels

Vendors in Hunts Point sell homemade food out of their own vans. (Photo by Zaira Cortes/EDLP)

Street vendors have taken full advantage of the lack of restaurants in Hunts Point, the Bronx – a neighborhood with large department stores – by installing stoves and fridges in their vans so they can serve fresh food to Latino workers.

Some merchants explained that they didn’t have the money to buy a food cart, which compelled them to use their wits to make a living.

“I’ve been selling food in the area for five years,” said a vendor who preferred to remain anonymous. “I installed the kitchen in my van by myself. I had to come up with the design so I wouldn’t have to pay someone else to do it. During times of crisis you have to use your imagination to put food on the table.”

Tailor-Made Sandals

Dionisio Gutiérrez sells homemade sandals and belts. (Photo by Zaira Cortes/EDLP)

When one job isn’t enough to get by, a part-time gig becomes a lifesaver for many people, but earning extra money with style is a talent that few can claim to possess.

Dionisio Gutiérrez, a 42-year-old Honduran man, lives in the Bronx and makes sandals and belts with his bare hands. Gutiérrez sells his crafts on 116th Street between Lexington and Third Avenues, and makes up to $500 in a good week.

Gutiérrez works as a nighttime superintendent in Manhattan, but in the afternoons he spends time in El Barrio. He said that money doesn’t go as far as it used to.

“I come from a family of shoemakers, and I learned the trade in my country,” he said with pride. “Sandals sell like hot cakes in the summer, but belts with the purchaser’s name engraved on them and bags are very popular.”

Art That Puts Food on the Table

Dekay 177 creates designs on hats, shirts and jackets. (Photo by Zaira Cortes/EDLP)

For those who think that a person can’t survive on art alone, the young artist Dekay177 proves the opposite to be true. With paintbrushes, a spray can, and markers, this Bronx resident creates unique designs on hats, t-shirts, pants, and jackets.

Dekay177, who is 29 and of Honduran descent, learned to draw in his art classes in high school. Later on, he perfected his technique and created his own methods.

“I’ve been doing this for 15 years,” he said. “It’s a good part-time job because I occasionally earn up to $300 in just a few hours.”

The Same, but Cheaper

This vendor outside he Bronx Zoo offers the same souvenirs as the zoo does, at lower prices. (Photo by Zaira Cortes/EDLP)

Some Latino merchants that gather outside the Bronx Zoo offer the same souvenirs that the zoo sells, but at much cheaper prices. The vendors attract the visitors’ attention by selling toys and stuffed animals for between $1 and $7.

“I prefer not to say how I get the merchandise,” said a vendor. “But it’s quality stuff. The products even have the same labels as the ones that the zoo sells.”

Padlocks: Guaranteed Money

Although Luz María Valdez, a woman of Dominican heritage, is on vacation in New York, she doesn’t miss out on opportunities that arise to make some extra cash.

Outside of a swimming pool in Brooklyn, Valdez discovered a lucrative way of doing business by pure chance when she realized that customers who didn’t have padlocks were not allowed to enter.

The following day, she looked for a shady spot near the pool to set up shop, and began selling padlocks for $5.

“Many people don’t want to go all the way back home, or they don’t know where a store might be,” said Valdez. The savvy merchant makes up to $40 selling padlocks, depending on the day.

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