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Ballpark Vendors Need Hustle And A Clear Strategy


It's baseball season, time for line drives, pop flies, peanuts and Cracker Jacks. Nick Fountain of our Planet Money podcast was once a vendor at Boston's Fenway Park, home, of course, of the Red Sox. And the job, he found, requires strategy.

NICK FOUNTAIN, BYLINE: Most of the fans haven't even found parking. And way underneath the bleachers, a bunch of guys in bright yellow T-shirts are crowded around, ready for what's called the pick.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: All right, so we're going to start out. Billy Kern'll take Bud Light out of home. Sully will take Bud Light out of home.

FOUNTAIN: The vendors are picking what they're going to sell and where in the stadium they're going to sell it. Vendors, they're paid in commission and tips. The more they sell, the more they make. The order they pick in is based on seniority. So the guys who've been working here the longest, they go first. And they all pick beer - easy seller, easy call.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Blue Moon. All right, beer's gone.

FOUNTAIN: Beer's gone. Now the pick is much trickier. A few guys whip out their phones, look at their weather apps because what sells well is really dependent on the weather. Tonight, it's cold. Jose Magrass is worried.

JOSE MAGRASS: Today's going to be the worst night of the year probably - most likely.

FOUNTAIN: The worst night of the year?

MAGRASS: So far. It's a Wednesday. There's no giveaway. Like, last night it was cold, but there was a Mookie Betts bobblehead.

FOUNTAIN: Jose, he's kind of a Fenway legend. Even though he has to pick behind 20 other guys, meaning he rarely gets beer, he makes more money than every other guy in the park.

What's your rank in commission last year?

MAGRASS: It was first.

FOUNTAIN: Year before?


FOUNTAIN: Year before?

MAGRASS: It's first. It's been first for a bit.


FOUNTAIN: Tonight, Jose's thinking...

MAGRASS: Something warm. Hot dogs or you could take pretzels or maybe a hot chocolate.

FOUNTAIN: Jose and the rest of these guys, they know the park better than anyone else. They know never sell cotton candy on a school night. They know Diet Coke sells pretty well around home plate where, you know, the wealthy folks sit. And regular Coke, that does well in the bleachers, the cheap seats.

MAGRASS: I'll take dogs in the bleachers.

FOUNTAIN: You just took hot dogs out of the bleachers.


FOUNTAIN: Pick strategy is a big part of vending. But once it's over, there's another major key to success - hustle. And no one hustles like Jose. It's game time. Jose is running up and down the stairs with a heavy crate of hot dogs held above his head.

MAGRASS: How many, guys?

FOUNTAIN: He make hot dogs quicker than anyone I've ever seen.

MAGRASS: Two? There's one.

FOUNTAIN: He's got the change.

MAGRASS: It's going to be 11. Would you guys like yellow stuff, red stuff?

FOUNTAIN: Reaches for the quarters, already another sale.

MAGRASS: That'll be $5.50. Ketchup, mustard?

FOUNTAIN: So that was like three seconds.

MAGRASS: Yeah. I'm going slower today though.

FOUNTAIN: Hands are a little cold?

MAGRASS: A little frigid.

FOUNTAIN: Three-dollar tip, not bad.

MAGRASS: Not bad, no.

FOUNTAIN: By the seventh inning stretch, most vendors are calling it a night. They're down below the stadium counting their money. But Jose, he doesn't stop. He's out there longer than anyone else. He even leaves the bleachers, his assigned section, and does a lap of the whole stadium.

MAGRASS: Home run, home run.

FOUNTAIN: The Red Sox, they're up 7-3. But Jose, he's barely noticed.

MAGRASS: There was one play that something happened. I looked up. But it was a home run for whoever we're playing today, which - yeah, I'm not sure who's in today.

FOUNTAIN: It's the Tampa Bay Rays.

MAGRASS: Is it Tampa Bay? It felt like Tampa Bay. I tell you what, that feels about right.

FOUNTAIN: The thing is, it doesn't really matter. In a few hours, Jose ended up selling 270 hot dogs, which means he'll walk away with more than 200 bucks in commission, not bad for what he called the worst night of the year. Nick Fountain here, NPR News, Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nick Fountain produces and reports for Planet Money. Since he joined the team in 2015, he's reported stories on pears, black pepper, ice cream, chicken, and hot dogs (twice). Come to think of it, he reports on food a whole lot. But he's also driven the world's longest yard sale, uncovered the secretive group that controls international mail, and told the story of a crazy patent scheme that involved an acting Attorney General.