I’ve recently joined an elite club: the sellers at the Saturday feira (market). After a few weeks, I have a few observations.
- It’s a secret society. The first rule of Feira Club is that you do not talk about Feira Club. Membership is as simple as having a bench or a cloth laid out to sell your wares. But you gotta ask one guy–Miro–for permission. Miro works for the mayor’s office and he has the unenviable task of telling people that their bench is too far out into the lane of traffic, no the taxi drivers can’t station themselves there, no you can’t have more than one space to sell, and that your meat stand needs some basic hygiene. He’s a diplomat extraordinaire disguised in a white sleeveless t-shirt and shorts. I lucked out and was happening to run into a friend who already has a stand while Miro was doing his rounds. She introduced me. I stubbornly waited my turn as he negotiated three other disagreements and then I explained my plans to start selling products from our farm. He plopped me into a long-abandoned space (“When do you want to start–next week?”) and I was off and running. My new neighbors eyed me dubiously, but once my wares started flying off my table they welcomed me in. The cousins that also sold at the market stopped by my stand and nodded approvingly and gave me hugs hello that were warmer than they were the week before. No one said that there was an in-club but clearly I just had crossed over. I was one of them.
- Staffing the fair is the hardest part of the job. It’s grueling work, with an ohmigod-o-clock start time. The first customers start arriving at 6:30 a.m. Some of the bigger vegetable stands start setting up at 3 a.m. Not being a morning person, my survival strategy is to pack the night before and set up quickly from 6:00-6:30. The pace picks up until it’s humming at 8 a.m. The whole thing finally slows down around 12noon. During that time you’re out in the sun, talking to endless customers. Comparing that to the slow, steady pace of picking and stocking produce for sale during the week, I have to say that the bulk of my work hours are actually in the selling itself.
- Prey on their weaknesses. Mineros (folks from the state of Minas Gerais) love to chat. My market spot is on a side street that people walk on their way to and from the fair. I’m no stranger to tabling fairs. I’ve done it in a corporate setting for years, and I did door-to-door work before that. If the job demands I can chat with just about anyone (which is interesting, since in daily life I’m more reserved). I send out a cheery “Good Morning!” to just about anyone who walks by my table. I’m sure some poor souls get hit more than once because my memory isn’t that hot at 6:30am, and I do try to switch to a smile and a thumbs up (the Brazilian shaka) after the first pass-by. The “good morning” usually gets at least a second glance at my wares, and often draws the unsuspecting target over to my table to chat. More than once I’ve had complete strangers assume that I must know them from somewhere and try to make small talk (“Hey! I haven’t seen you in ages! Where have you been! So glad you’re back around….”) The little old ladies glow and more than one has given me a hug hello (nope, didn’t know her). At the very least I switch a bunch of faces from morning-errand-seriousness to smiling-somebody-loves-me. It’s worth extra the vocal cord strain.
- Let them eat cake. Among other things, I sell American banana bread (which no one knows how to make here? go figure.) and cake decorated with our overabundance of starfruit. Novelties, both of them, so I set out free samples. Apparently this is an innovative marketing technique around here. Maybe because all the sellers have been here for as long as anyone can remember so everyone knows their products? I don’t get it. If I can lure them to the table for a sample of cake or jabuticaba liquor the sale is 90% made already. It’s also a great excuse to chat (see point #3).
- Those fancy metal market stands are overrated. Cheapest of the cheap is a tarp on the ground. Next up is a wooden table, or like me a humble platform across two sawhorses. Then the fancy professional market sellers have a metal framed market stand complete with awning. They’re lovely. I thought I wanted one. Now I know better. Why? They are as nasty to assemble as a tent out of the 1960’s, they look heavy as heck to carry in, and they are exorbitantly expensive (right now the R$300 that one costs would be a month’s worth of earnings). I arrive at 6:00 am, slap down my sawhorses, tabletop, tablecloth, sun umbrella, and display and am ready to go by 6:20. With my extra 10-20 minutes I munch on a pastel de feira and watch my neighbor across the way still struggle with her set-up. Her metal stand is a two-person job to set up and includes bungee cords to tighten and wooden shims under the legs to get it all to sit square and true. Yeup. I’ll take the extra sleep, thankyouverymuch.