Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Street vendors flourish at Evanston’s Fourth of July parade

Matt+Gentile%2C+peddles+Independence+Day+merchandise+out+of+a+wagon+before+the+parade.
Benjamin Fogler
Matt Gentile, peddles Independence Day merchandise out of a wagon before the parade.

Oak Lawn resident Rich Cotter is a familiar face each Fourth of July, parading with a basket of flags and snappers strapped to his chest. As he hustles up and down Central Street, customers flock to him whenever he pauses. 

“It’s a working holiday for me, but I love it,” Cotter said, exchanging crumpled bills for a box of snappers. “Somebody’s gotta do it. If there was no snapper guy here, there’d be a lot of disappointed children.” 

For Cotter, whose family has sold goods at Evanston’s annual parade for generations, Independence Day is about more than just community and cheap food — it’s about seizing a business opportunity.

Peter Staub, 35, who has worked at Mustard’s Last Stand since childhood, echoed this sentiment as he operated its hot dog stand at the parade.

“No matter what, there’s a good showing,” Staub said. “People feel a need, you know —  ‘We gotta stop by Mustard’s.’”

But there are others like Cotter, a leasing agent and DJ year-round, who aren’t connected to a local business but see the holiday as a business opportunity nonetheless. Selling flags and snappers at the parade is better than a regular day job working for someone else, Cotter said. 

Evanston-resident Matt Gentile, who is currently unemployed, transformed his wagon into a mobile store. He peddled sunglasses, water bottles, headbands, flags and a few miscellaneous items, including his sister’s old Fourth of July belt, out of a wagon. He constructed a makeshift “merchandise pole” to display his goods, most of which he ordered from Amazon. 

“I like being an entrepreneur. I have sales experience, I like talking to people,” Gentile said. “I’m comfortable with the uncomfortable thing I’m doing, which is approaching people to buy a Fourth of July sign.”

The most important factor is location, Gentile said. Hours before the parade, he arrived to find somewhere that would be central but also friendly to the police.

Whether or not local law enforcement is bothered by the sellers makes no difference to Evanston residents, who rely on the goods that Cotter and Gentile have to offer. Gunpowder snappers, also known as “party poppers,” are especially key to the parade-going experience.

“We’ve bought them every year. Something to kill time before the parade,” Evanston resident Sophie Berne said. 

While the vendors may be at the parade for some quick cash, Gentile sees their role as celebrating America’s birthday in a unique way.

“Money don’t grow on trees,” Gentile said. “You’re trying to do something for yourself on your own. It’s sort of like the American Dream.”

 

Email: [email protected]

Benjamin Fogler is a student in the Medill-Northwestern Journalism Institute this summer. 

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