Inside the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell is an economy of millions of dollars, involving lengthy contracts and legal guarantees.
Outside the Jazz Fest is an economy involving dollar bills and bottled water.
It is still highly lucrative, say vendors encamped on corners on side streets surrounding the Fair Grounds, as water inside the festival is priced at $3, and the going rate outside is just $1.
Many here say they return to hawking water by the caseload for years because it helps fund a wide range of endeavors, from vacations to a few months of rent.
Chaelsie Lloyd, 26, says she has planted herself with friend Tanisha Watson, 23, for eight years selling, not just bottles of water, but foldable chairs, $20 apiece.
They sell 20 cases of water a day, both women say, which they hope will fund a beachside vacation to Pensacola, Fla., this summer.
“This is the best spot right here,” says Watson. “It’s hot, but we try to keep them hydrated.”
Staking the right spot is critical, says Stephon Tate, 20, who is waving bottles of water to people exiting cabs at the corner of Lopez Sreet and Esplanade Avenue.
“The secret is to be ahead of the crowd — you gotta be the early bird,” he says. Tate has been selling water on this corner since 2010, and he says he plans to use the money to buy the new iPhone 6 Plus.
Standing in the heat for nearly 12 hours can be exhausting, but he has enough to keep him hydrated.
“It gets hot, but I can always drink some of my ‘ice cold water’,” he says laughing.
David Ward, 46, of Treme has strategically moved his business a few blocks into the neighborhood at Bell and Lopez where he has less competition but is the first vendors people see when walking towards the Fair Grounds. Not only is Ward selling water with his wife Monoie Ward and friend Phillip Hawkins, he is also cooking up catfish po boys.
He learned how to cook from his mother, is the house chef at Pal’s Lounge nearby and cooks offshore for four weeks at a time. He likes street vending best, he says, because “you can meet a lot of people and then they pass the word on.”
With so much competition, there is an art to getting people to dig into their pockets for your bottle over the person selling across the street.
“Customer service,” says Kim Johnson, 38, of the Lower Ninth Ward. She and her sister Keyonna Braxton, 32, have been selling for years at Lopez and Grand Route St. John, and they never stop chatting up passers-by.
“Hey, yo, I need some of that,” one man on a bicycle says, braking his tires.
“Oh, you’re wonderful,” Johnson answers.