Ballard vendors remain stalwart as Real Change jumps price to $2

Publish date: April 10, 2013

Ballard News-Tribune

“Rain, sleet, sun or snow,” said Terry Cunningham, the top Real Change vendor.

No matter the weather, Cunningham has been standing at his corner in front of the Ballard Bartell Drugs for the past 10 years, selling copies of Real Change to passersby.

Building up strong relationships with his regular customers, he has been able to maintain his sales throughout the year, selling on average of 100 papers a day. But with the recent price increase from $1 to $2, he was concerned about how his sales will continue only selling about 60 papers, like on April 3, the first day of the price increase.

“It’s going to take a while for it to level out,” he said.

The news of the price hike was introduced to vendors three months ago by Real Change, allowing them to talk with their customers for feedback on how they predict sales will go. According to Tim Harris, the Real Change director, mostly positive comments were received with buyers supporting the cause regardless of the price.

“(The) majority of people have told vendors that the paper is well worth $2,” Harris said. “They will continue to support it, (saying) that it is about time we did this.”

Before the change, vendors would buy copies at 40 cents each, pocketing 60 cents every time they sold. Now, Real Change sells the copies at 60 cents, allowing vendors to keep $1.40 per copy.

“The price has been the same for almost 20 years and a dollar just doesn’t buy what it used to,” Harris said. “Most of this is so all of our vendors are making enough money to be worth it for them.”

Vendors like Cunningham were very worried about how their sales will be affected, but Harris reassured that even if sales dropped 35-40 percent, they would still be making more money. But that huge of a drop isn’t even anticipated.

Despite the larger profit each vendor would make, there were still some concerns from low-income customers, claiming they will take more into consideration the next time they think about purchasing a paper.

Robin Blanchett lives in Madison Park, but frequents the Ballard Bartell Drugs and has for at least the past 10 years. She said she tries to buy a copy of Real Change every other week and is one of Cunningham’s regulars.

Though she supports the Real Change cause, Blanchett does not agree with the new price and said she will reconsider her purchase next time around.

“I think it’s a mistake,” she said. “I think it is kind of a psychological barrier. If you are trying to help various people several times a week, it just adds up. It is up 100 percent and I think I’ll think twice before I (buy).”

This becomes a dilemma for Blanchett, saying she understands the economics of it all and knows the benefits for the vendors, but is just sorry that the increase had to happen.

“People do get adjusted to change,” she said. “It just depends on how much people feel they can give.”

On the other hand, only a few blocks away, William Prosolow, who has manned the front of the Post Office for the past eight years, said in the few days since the price increase, his customers have been nothing but positive about the change.

“My customers were in full-force support of the price,” he said. “The support was overwhelming.”

Prosolow even noticed a small rise in sales despite the extra dollar. Having notified his customers a few months in advance, he was able to continue sales as usual without much explanation, which was originally his biggest concern.

Out of all the papers he sold on the first day, he only had to explain the new price to approximately 10 percent of the buyers and only three customers were truly hesitant to buy a paper in the future.

“You kind of build a little bit of responsibility for it yourself because you’re what the price increase is about,” Prosolow said. “But (Real Change) handled it very well through the media that the price was going to go up. They took that responsibility out of the vendor.”

Before, Prosolow had to watch every dollar he spent, cautious of what his money was being put toward. He said 90 percent of his old profits went straight into his rent and the rest was used for daily necessities.

Though his profits would now be more than doubled per issue, he said he needs to maintain his mindset and take care of where he spends his money.

“It’s really hard to stand here and feel constructive when you’re here sometimes for nine hours a day,” Prosolow said. “At the end of the day on a slow day and you made $5 an hour, you might feel pretty good.”

But that’s all part of the job for Prosolow. He works six days a week clocking in nine hours a day, which sometimes adds up to longer hours than the workers inside the Post Office, only taking days off if he’s “in the hospital or on the way there.”

“I don’t want people to think I’m out here wanting their sympathy,” he said. “I want them to recognize that I’m out here doing what I do to make money.”

While Prosolow enjoyed the first few days of new price, he can only hope that the rest of the year follows suit.

He said, “By the end of the day, I was very happy (how) the response was and I just hope it continues that way.”

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