Despite the first hints of autumn chill, the sun shone bright in Durham on Saturday, creating ideal weather for Ninth Street’s biannual Sidewalk Sale.
As a cluster of Duke students turned on to Ninth Street around 4 p.m., they scoured the streets for bustling outdoor sales stands, food and activities. But few signs of the sidewalk sale were to be found. Students in Duke apparel dined al fresco on Thai food or tacos. Locals ran errands, many with tote bags conscientiously carried from home. A few families strolled the sidewalks and window shopped. Was it possible that businesses of Ninth Street were so chill that they forgot to attend their own sidewalk sale? Was it already over? Was it starting fashionably late?
“There seemed to be more people walking about the streets, but only an occasional small rack in front of a store was showcased," said first-year Madison Burmeister. "If I hadn't known there was an event going on, I wouldn't think there was an event going on.”
One of the few advertisements hung on the door of the Latin-style ice cream shop, Pincho Loco: “Sidewalk Sale: Jarritos Float, $3.99 each.”
Ngamet Keita, assistant manager at Hunky Dory, a record store and head shop, said, “I know that they reached out to us to do it, but I don’t know if we ever actually finalized it, so I don’t know if we were part of it...”
But the lack of obvious activity and loud signage did not mean that the sidewalk sale was a failure. Instead, it reflected quiet confidence among the proprietors who know their customer base and would not resort to tacky advertising. Some regulars on Ninth Street were aware of great deals.
Outside the clothing shop Vaguely Reminiscent, two women sifted through a rack of clothing items listed for either $5 or $10.
Pam, a member of the store’s special buyers club, said, “Well, this is an amazing store, so when Carol says she’s having a sidewalk sale, I have to come.”
“I found exactly what I was coming to look for,” she said as she pulled a black skirt-and-tights combo off the rack that she thought was “perfect for fall.”
Lacey Hudspeth, an employee at the Regulator Bookshop, said the store’s heavy foot traffic that day was not necessarily due to the sidewalk sale. The Regulator, founded by Duke graduates, has been in business for over four decades and has a loyal customer base, both old and young.
Given the beautiful weather on Saturday, Hudspeth said it was hard to tell whether customers were there for the sale.
"But it’s been a very busy day today," she said.
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Meanwhile, One World Market, a non-profit selling handmade crafts, featured summer clearance racks, locopops and free henna tattoos outside their shop.
Manager Cara Adrian said, “[The henna artist] was planning to be here from 12 to 2, I believe, and she ended up staying until 3, so we were booked back to back.”
The free service led to an increase in the diversity of customers, including many who were just learning about the store’s fair trade mission, she said. To keep costs down and continue to be a nonprofit, One World Market’s staff consists primarily of volunteers. She encourages students to visit the store and get involved.
Store owners on Ninth Street said running a small business was “inspiring,” “fun” and “fabulous… really fabulous.”
“We’re surrounded by a community that understands the importance of keeping dollars in the local community," Vaguely Reminiscent owner Carol Anderson said. "They come to us first before they go online, so they are tremendously supportive. We wouldn’t still exist if we did not have such a supportive community.”
Martha Morales, at Pincho Loco, said that it is hard “working at the shop all the time, when you’re the business owner.” But she appreciates the business of Duke students.
Hudspeth explained that, even though the Regulator is so close to East Campus, the shop is frequented by many other local students, such as from the North Carolina School of Science and Math, an elite high school that is a few blocks away. In April, a group of students, evidently book lovers, came to the Regulator in gowns and tuxedos and took all their pictures in the store.
"It was very sweet," she said. "And it’s clearly a big part of people’s lives.”