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August 29, 2006

Street Merchant Roulette

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I don't know about you, but I avoid street merchants.

In theory, this might not be good. After all, there may well have been many fine, large companies that got launched via a pushcart.

But I avoid 'em anyway.

My wife is less rigid in this regard, bargain-hunter that she is. She bought some "amber" in Lithuania last fall and some "silver" bracelets in Mexico last week from vendors, and the items might not be exactly what she expected.

Other stuff she's bought on the street has been legit, of course.

The key element, I think, is how knowledgeable the buyer is. For instance, I know zilch about jewelry. So I go straight to Tiffany or Bailey Banks and pay the full shot; I regarded the price premium as insurance.

I'm on firmer ground with soft goods. After all, you can inspect the stitching and other details (though the quality of the fabric might be harder to tease out unless you work with the stuff a lot).

Years ago I got taken in by an ad for a cheap pocket "statistics" calculator. I suppose it could do statistics, but with a lot of keying-in and with more effort than it would have taken with calulators costing a bit more. I never used the thing.

What I hate are in-your-face street vendors. I saw a lot of those near the border crossing at Nogales a couple years ago. Things were much better at Cabo San Lucas last week, no doubt because the local authorities are quite aware that the place lives and dies by the tourist trade.

For example, beach merchants near the condo complex where we stayed have to remain behind a rope and thereby can't mingle with tourists on lounge chairs (see photo below).

Beach merchants at Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
Note the rope barrier in the foreground; they aren't allowed to cross it.

The "silver" items they were selling were often attractive and inexpensive. They even were "stamped." But anyone can fake a stamp. A jewelry merchant at the market in town claimed that the beach stuff was simply silver plated. Was this so, or was he slamming the competition? I have no way of telling.

As for cautious me, I went to a store in the shopping mall and paid full-price for a gift for my daughter.



posted by Donald at August 29, 2006


If you're buying cheap jewelry, go by looks, not investment value. I mean, if you can't tell on sight whether a bauble is silver or silver plate, who cares? It's not like you're expecting to recoup your purchase price.

Posted by: Lindsay Beyerstein on August 29, 2006 10:17 PM

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