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Published:January 29th, 2006 14:13 EST
Living the Hustle

Living the Hustle

By Andrew Chien

The money goes back and forth on Newark’s Market Street, a busy place of commerce that lives up to its name. Everyone working on Market Streetis living the hustle. Pigeons congregate and fly over, occasionally dropping a surprise for the busy people below. Flyers of “cash for guns with no questions” are intermittently posted on the front door of many stores. The cars, people, and booming hip hop and R&B blaring out of speakers, all clash creating the soundtrack to Market Street. The people on Newark’s Market Street, however, seem to be united in the fundamental pursuit of buying or selling.

A hotdog vendor wearing a dirty flannel shirt and a Yankees baseball cap sits down on a black milk crate hollering, “Chili Dogs, get your Chili Dogs!” His hotdog vending apparatus is shiny, like the badge on a sheriff, but its umbrella displaying both a hotdog and a Star of David is dirtier than a sewer rat. He never washes his hands or wears gloves while taking money or serving hotdogs. He has been doing this job for over 20 years. Johnny B, 86, said that “Business stinks, it’s gone down at least 45 percent, but what can you do when 95 percent of the people in Newark are on welfare?”. However, business hasn’t always been bad for Johnny, just the “last few years were really bad including this one." He pauses to stretch his legs, “Soda and a chili dog are only $2.”

Ironically, the only business not stuck in the grind of commerce was the NJ Bookstore that started in 1970, and out of their four stores is the only one that carries trade publications-- meaning story books-- whether non-fiction or fiction. The rest of the stores primarily deal with college textbooks.  The NJ Bookstore looks like a rundown crack house from the outside with big grey letters that spell out NJ Bookstore, but it doesn’t look too shabby inside. 

Karl, (973) 622-BOOK, a white, heavy-set, stern-faced, middle-aged man wearing a simple button-up shirt, displays either a courteous concern or a xenophobic fear of people.

“Don’t get too close to me, I don’t want you to catch what I’ve got,” he said.

Students, colleges, and businesses all buy from them. Primarily St. Benedict’s, a preparatory school which treats them like a convenience store. St. Benedict buys from the store because of its close location and purchases anywhere from a single to thousands of books from NJ Books. “We’re like a quick check, you can buy one thing from us or a thousand, it’s all the same... but our prices are very competitive,” said Karl.  “The owner has only worked this job for his entire life, and I think that stands as a testament to this company,” he said. “They will finally be stocking magazines for sale.”  

An African American girl with a highly symmetrical face and the voice like an expertly played xylophone sells bootleg CDs on the corner. Wearing a jacket and tight jeans, Alysha has been working as a bootlegger for two years.   It is literally a buffet of music ranging from mainstream label recent releases like Lil Kim’s new album to classic hip hop albums like Illmatic by Nas, and just various underground or mainstream mix tapes.

To get the music, she buys the albums, burns it to CD, downloads the artwork, and prints it out. “Today, I burned 500 CDs.” However, in a city where bootleggers are sometimes several inches away from each other, the question of competitiveness is sure to come up. “Well, business is really hard if you don’t have the right CDs that the customer is looking for,” she said.

Le Monde is a simple clothing store with a green banner that advertises its name. The store has two managers, Raymond and Jay, who had more contrasting opinions than an anarchist and fascist couple at a communist rally. Raymond is a confidently speaking African American sporting a black beanie and jacket that matches his light beard, while Jay is a soft spoken Chinese-American with a heavy accent dressed very casually in a T-shirt.

Raymond said, “business is hard because Newark is changing; you got people too scared to shop downtown and then you got police officers that ticket anyone who parks near the store. What they have to do is put out parking meters in the streets.” To which Jay retorts with, “look at the traffic, if they put parking meters up there no one would be able to move.” Once the subject of parking lots comes up, Raymond immediately attacks the price to which Jay retorts, “it isn’t that bad.”

“The Ironbound district being dominated by the Portuguese is responsible for Newark changing,” said Raymond. Of course, the Ironbound district has been Portuguese for decades but Raymond said, “there is racial tension.” “They’re taking over and they don’t want to do anything with nobody, that’s why they are trying to separate from Newark,” said Raymond. Jay scratches his face and states somberly, “business is slow.”

Market Street: if you’re not buying, you’re dying.