The ‘vend’ diagram of VCU: Campus vendors thrive off student business

Tangee Bowman, Alex Carrigan and Samra Khawaja

Contributing Writers

Students looking for a traditional handbag from Latin America or who have a craving for a delicious vegetarian tacos, only have to look around for the VCU campus vendors.

Street vendors, or more appropriately, campus vendors, hawk their wares each day at VCU and offer tantalizing goods to students at affordable prices.

“Could I sell a $35 scarf? Yes. Could I sell it consistently? No,” said Charles Brown, owner of Urban Traders.

Brown, who has been selling at VCU for more than 25 years, is attracted to the “hip, young, innovative crowd” of college students and sets his stand outside of the Student Commons because of its traffic flow.

While Brown’s merchandise comes from different merchants, Fabiola Lopez centers on current Latin American styles, getting her handbags and jewelry from countries like Mexico, Guatemala and Peru. Her stand, Casa de los Milagros, is her “hobby.”

Lopez said her future correlates with her husband’s teaching career as a professor of religious studies. Every year, she and her husband visit the countries together to update the merchandise.

“I have things from just Latin American,” she said. “These, you can’t find in Richmond. I like to have unique stuff.”

In between these two vendors, located at the Compass, is Nate’s Taco Truck; inside is Jared Young, a friend and employee of Nate. Their tacos and quesadillas are “$3 for tacos with animal on them, $2.50 for veggie tacos,” Young said. The stand has been at VCU for six years and has a restaurant on 2nd Street, which offers a breakfast menu as well.

The three vendors all have to bend to the weather and seasonal conditions. They depend on student customers, but eventually leave the campus in the summertime to sell at festivals, fund-raisers and other local events.

“We sometimes do weddings or anniversary parties. It’s pretty fun,” Young said.

In certain conditions, the vendors have the power to close their business early. They all said they enjoy being their own boss and setting their own hours.

“I might be here tomorrow, but I could be somewhere else. I’m a merchant, whether it is here or San Diego. Sometimes I have to go with where the wind flows,” Brown said.

Working on campus grounds has created relationships with the faculty and students and each vendor said they have become acquainted with some familiar faces while running their stand.

Brown, also known Charlie Brown to his regulars, has become somewhat of a campus legend, making small talk with faculty members between sales. Lopez said she even uses her heritage to help students studying Spanish. She often speaks to them in her native language.

However, all of them said they have to deal with difficult customers from time to time.

“That’s like asking a woman if she’s ever had a headache. When you deal with the public, you deal with all kinds of people,” Brown said.

All of the vendors follow legal procedures to set up their business, yet Lopez said that she has had customers who questioned the legitimacy of her stand by looking for the permit. Even with all of their problems, the vendors still enjoy their work and will continue to serve VCU students.

“I’m just really happy that the students are really nice. I have had a great experience,” Lopez said.

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