D.C. food vendors

D.C. street vendors persevere through tumultuous weather

From pouring rain to sweltering heat, independent sellers try to make a living.

Souvenir vendor Anthony Williams beamed as he thought of this upcoming Washington, D.C. summer. Sun-drenched days draw crowds past his fold-up table at the base of the Washington Monument. For Williams, holidays like Memorial Day and the Fourth of July are magnets for his clientele: tourists.

Downtown Washington is dotted with vendors selling t-shirts, hats, and food to the surging summer tourist influx. But amid the hustle, scorching heat and rolling thunderstorms make steady business elusive and unpredictable for independent street stalls.

On 100-degree days, “You learn how to cope with the heat, but you have to pace yourself,” Williams said. He said he takes breaks in the nearby public restrooms or dips into nearby shops for blasts of air conditioning.

This cooling relief will be crucial in Washington, D.C. as it braces for a 40% to 50% chance of being unusually hot this summer. data recorded 16 more summer days above the long-term average than in 1970 and 10 more days above 90°F during the same period.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is expected to propose a new rule requiring employers to protect workers exposed to high temperatures in the next few months, The New York Times . However, for independent street vendors, this may not be much help.

T shirts being sold near National Mall in D.C.
T-shirt vendor sells caps near the National Mall (Georgia Hall/ҹֱ)

Beatrice Richards runs a “mobile business,” selling t-shirts at various locations in the District depending on where she gets the most business. “In the summer, people are moving and traveling,” Richards said. “Business is better when it’s sunny.”

Richards said she finds the heat tough but needs the supplementary income. During the week, she teaches students aged 9 to 22 at a community school in Maryland and comes to Washington to sell clothes on weekends and major holidays.


“If you don’t work, then how else will you pay the bills?” she said.

Street food stalls and trucks abound at the corner of Constitution Avenue, N.W. and 15th Street, N.W.. Behind his grill, Anthony Criollo said this was his first time running his stall in Washington for Memorial Day weekend. Hailing from New York, he came to Washington hoping for good business. He, too, faces struggles with the temperature. “There are days when it’s too hot to work outside,” he said.

Inside a food truck, air conditioning offers workers respite from the sweltering heat. However, unpredictable swings in wet weather correlate with challenges for vendors attracting customers.

This year, business has been slower for Wassim Diraj, who works in a falafel and sandwich truck. He arrived in Washington two years ago, relocating from Tunisia. Diraj believes dwindling business is due to higher levels of rain.

According to from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Washington, D.C., had 4.89 inches of rain in March 2024, an increase from the 1.6 inches recorded in March 2023.

Despite rising temperatures, Sultan Kamara’s ice cream truck is cool inside. “It stays cool inside, even when it’s 90 degrees outside,” he said.

Since arriving in Washington from Sierra Leone in the 1990s, Kamara has noticed the rising temperatures. He appreciates that it draws overheated tourists to his icy refreshments.

Kamara was parked outside the White House Visitor Center on Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., for Memorial Day Weekend. Each time the truck heads downtown, he says, “You don’t make a lot; it’s hard, but at least you always make something.”

Georgia Hall

Add comment

Follow us

Don't be shy, get in touch. We love meeting interesting people and making new friends.

Most popular

Most discussed