Unlike many people who attended President Barack Obama’s inauguration Tuesday, University of Maryland student Jameel Spriggs woke up at 9 a.m. - hours after many had already arrived at the National Mall. But unlike the millions who packed the Mall, hoping to catch a glimpse of history, Spriggs was there to work.
In anticipation of his long day outside in wind chill temperatures of 17 degrees Fahrenheit, he layered his clothes and stuffed his pockets with hand-warmers provided by his employer, Red Bow Photos.
Then, with his camera - also provided by Red Bow - Spriggs headed to the National Mall, where he took pictures of anyone who would allow him. For each hour he worked, Spriggs was paid a flat $10 and received a small commission for each picture he took.
Spriggs wasn’t the only student who hoped to profit from the massive influx of people - and money - into D.C. this past week.
Students and non-students alike, hoping to supplement their regular incomes, looked to capitalize on the four-day span when millions flocked to D.C.
Matthew Williams, a 20-year-old Virginia resident, sold homemade T-shirts. The scraggly dressed Williams made and designed his shirts to say “Obama,” “hope” and “change” on the green background of a marijuana leaf.
“[The shirts] are something I thought would sell, so I made them up and came out here,” he said.
Williams, who skipped the Inauguration, braved the bustling Gallery Place-Chinatown Metrorail station to sell his homemade T-shirts.
“I don’t do this very often,” the dreadlocked Williams said. “But occasionally, if the crowds are big enough, I can make some money.”
Others had come from as far away as New York City’s Harlem neighborhood to sell their wares. Bought at wholesalers for cheap, vendors mark up the price and turn a hefty profit - money that one vendor said he needed during the current economic crisis.
“Barack said he was going to stimulate small businesses, and how much smaller can you get than selling T-shirts?” said a man who only identified himself as a “New York entrepreneur.” “[I] am trying to get a stimulus package from this Inauguration, a bailout; things are very difficult right now.”
Matt Kohen, a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs, said he thought the crowds and possible legal ramifications were reasons not to capitalize on the Inauguration.
Kohen said he hoped to make money by selling buttons through an unlicensed vendor that advertised on Craigslist. The vendor would supply Kohen with an unlimited supply of buttons and other memorabilia, and in return for his salesmanship, he could keep 15 percent of profits.
It is not unusual for a salesman to make between $200 and $300 at large events, according to the ad.
Kohen said he met with the vendor in a McDonald’s. After the vendor warned Kohen to stay clear of police, he decided to opt out of the scheme.
“It was rather illegitimate,” Kohen said. “They didn’t provide us with a vendor’s license and told us to avoid the police ... that combined with the hassle of the weather and getting up early just made it not worth it.”
Joe Ginter, a sophomore in the Kogod School of Business, said he decided against working at the Inauguration. Ginter, like Spriggs, had signed up to work the Inauguration for Red Bow Photos, but after a Saturday spent dealing with crowds and cold, he decided to watch the ceremony in the warmth of his Anderson Hall dorm room.
“Everyone has their own digital camera nowadays, so within five hours I only took 25 pictures,” Ginter said. “It [would] have been insane to catch the Metro at 4 a.m.,; it would have been too much ... I was freezing on Saturday.”
Spriggs, who has worked for Red Bow Photos for three months, said the crowds were exactly what the company anticipated and he was satisfied with the way things turned out.
“It was worth it; it was great to see the event,” he said. “I made good money too.”