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Homeless street vendor hopeful price hike won’t hurt newspaper sales

The price of the Real Change street newspaper is increasing by $1, with publishers saying the goal is to help their vendors make more money. ( file)

Through rain, snow, sleet or shine, you can find George Sidwell most mornings outside the post office in West Seattle. He’s not a mailman, though. He’s a Real Change vendor. And Sidwell says he’s cautiously optimistic a looming price hike for the street newspaper will mean more money for the homeless man.

The publishers of Real Change say that’s the intent of raising the price of the paper from $1 to $2 as of Wednesday.

“When you need to sell three papers to net enough money for a cup of coffee, it’s definitely time for a raise,” says Real Change founding director Timothy Harris.

Sidwell and the several hundred other vendors that sell Real Change around Seattle currently pay $.35 each for their paper and keep all the proceeds. Now, they’ll pay $.60 a piece. But Sidwell tells KIRO Radio’s Andrew Walsh he’s confident his regular customers will continue to support him as he sells the papers outside the post office and the local QFC.

“I have a lot of customers that don’t even take the paper and just give me a buck or they buy the paper for a buck but every time I see them they give me a buck. I might see them four or five times a week,” he says.

Sidwell says he became homeless about four years ago after suffering a series of strokes made him unable to work his construction job, ultimately costing him his business and then his home. He first learned of Real Change last fall from a friend at the Nickelsville homeless camp.

“It’s actually done me really well,” he says. Sidwell says he can average $60 in sales on an average day, and upwards of $100 on a busy weekend. But it’s not easy. He stands out in all conditions for hours. While most people are polite or simply ignore him, some can be outright abusive.

“I’ve actually been told to get a real job, why don’t I quit drinking and drugging maybe I’d have some money and not have to come beg them for theirs,” he says.

Sidwell insists it is a real job, and an important one for people like him that are homeless, disabled, or struggling in some other way. And he says many of the vendors, including him, are clean, sober, and just trying to figure out how to get by.

Walsh agrees.

“It’s not just panhandling, they’re selling something. And by being a Real Change vendor it kind of shows people are trying to do the best they can to work for the money they are asking for,” he says.

After the price increases this week, the hope for everyone involved is that the work will put a few more bucks in their pocket and help ease their struggles, if even a little bit.

“The bottom line is that readers love our paper and want to see our vendors succeed,” says Real Change’s Harris.

Sidwell says he just wants to make enough to pay weekly $250 bill at a nearby motel where he recently moved.

“Some of our vendors are making like five bucks an hour. We want to reward them for selling the paper, and make closer to minimum wage,” Harris tells The Seattle Times.

Harris, who founded the paper in 1994, says Seattle is the sixth North American city to raise prices for its street papers to $2, and while he expects circulation to fall initially, he’s optimistic it will rebound over the coming year based on what happened elsewhere.

“I’m confident my regular customers are willing to pay it knowing the vendor is getting more of it,” says Sidwell.

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