Along the main streets of Germantown’s commercial district, eager merchants set up shop for a long day of bartering, surveillance and plenty of waiting. “If I had a lot of business, I should be retired by now,” Haj Nianghane, 45, said. “Some days are good. Some days are bad.”
Nianghane sets up his shop six days per week at the southwest corner of Chelten Avenue at Germantown Avenue. Despite declining business, Nianghane has been at it for 11 years and doesn’t see an end anytime soon for his street-side, vending career.
Drawn by an American woman, Nainghane made his way from West Africa to Philadelphia 13 years ago. He first got his start working at a car wash, putting in 11 hours a day for only $4 an hour.
Not long after, Nainghane quit his job to start his own business selling knock-off Coach purses, Polo shirts, UGG flip flops, rhinestone-rimmed watches and other popular accessories. “I’m my own boss. I could get paid $10 an hour at another job, but here I can sell a $10 watch in minutes,” Nainghane said.
Along with the numerous other vendors on the streets, Nainghane pays the city an annual $300 license fee and a percentage of his income in taxes.
Standing in front of an abandoned storefront, pointing toward an empty sidewalk, Nianghane said the down-turned economy has certainly affected business. However, four other vendors still remain on his block. “Everybody establishes their own clientele,” said Sabryia Idhadi, the neighboring vendor. In business for 30 years, vending is Idhadi’s first and only job. Both
Idhadi and Nainghane said competition is not one of their main concerns.
The primary problem is keeping an eye on all of the customers. Just last week, Nainghane recalled having to chase after a man who ran away with a bag of his colored, Ralph Lauren T-shirts. “There’s always thieves. I stop a lot of people, but sometimes they get away,” Nainghane said.
However, even through tough times, Nainghane is able to support a family of four with the help of his wife. “I don’t live largely, but I live okay,” he said.
Knowing what it’s like to work over 65 hours per week for less than minimum wage at his first job, Nianghane is more than happy with his current career. “I’m my own boss now. I even have a stomach because I’m doing so much of nothing,” Nianghane said as he patted his navy blue Lacoste shirt. “I have the American dream.”