Michael Jackson’s death is good for umbrella sales

By: Justin Nobel | Date: Sat, July 4th, 2009

Jumillah Galvez sold 72 Michael T-shirts in 30 minutes earlier this week but now all anyone seems to care about is when the next batch of her Michael Jackson umbrellas will arrive.

T-shirts, hats, pins and belts were the norm but some vendors in Harlem, in New York City, sold Michael Jackson umbrellas. Fans couldnt get enough. (Photo by Justin Nobel)

T-shirts, hats, pins and belts were the norm but some vendors in Harlem, in New York City, sold Michael Jackson umbrellas. Fans couldnt get enough. (Photo by Justin Nobel)

“People been out here since 1 p.m. saying, ‘Did they come yet? Did they come yet?” said Galvez, last Friday evening.

Her stand is one of dozens in an impromptu bazaar of Michael Jackson goods that stretches several blocks along 125th Street, in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City.

“When a celebrity dies there is a massive outpouring of feeling and memorialization and along with that comes this sort of spontaneous outpouring of folks who feel something but also think they can make a buck,” said Robert Neuwirth, a journalist working on a book about informal marketplaces.

Jacksons fans have gathered in spots across the globe to say goodbye: outside his modest childhood home in the factory town of Gary, Indiana, in Tokyos high-energy Shibuya district, in Karachi, Pakistan, and Sofia, Bulgaria and at Jacksons Neverland Ranch, on a country lane in Southern California’s wine country. People bring handmade signs, cards, flowers, letters, photos and Jackson dummies. They sing, moonwalk and hold vigils.

In Harlem, the Apollo Theater held a tribute to Jackson last Wednesday and another on Friday evening. Outside the theater before the show crowds mobbed the sidewalk, where a plywood wall that fenced off a vacant lot had been transformed into a signing board. The wood was quickly covered in messages but a handful of helpers supplied sheets of plastic and canvas to hang over the wall so signing could continue.

A hulking man with a doo-rag wrote:
The arch angel sent by God, Michael you are the king of kings. RIP. – from Craig Woods

A petite girl in a flower dress and black hair jotted:

Beat it, beat it. – A. Wilson, Belfast Ireland

Beside the signing wall, a man in yellow slacks commanded a desk, urging passersby to sign his scrapbooks. “Release yourself,” he shouted. “Put your thoughts down on paper. Write a book, a story. I dont care if you talk about your grandmother or your pet dog.”

Behind him, and lining the sidewalk in both directions, were the vendors, thronged with customers.

But vendors like Galvez werent just out to make a buck. She is a third generation street vendor, saving money so she can put herself through law school.

“My family is really, really big fans,” said Galvez.

Some New York vendors were hawking shirts the afternoon Jackson died but Galvezs family waited, they wanted to put out quality cotton shirts, not cheap ones that would later fall apart. By the Sunday after Jackson’s death they had their wares ready and have been selling ever since.

“The informal economy is incredibly nimble,” sad Neuwirth. “Deals go through quickly, stuff gets made quickly and boom, its done.”

Galvezs umbrella stand is not entirely informal; her brother and his wife run a shop called Rain or Shine Umbrellas, in Harlem. They designed signature umbrellas to honor Barack Obamas inauguration and crafted specialty umbrellas for when TV personality Star Jones went on vacation. Galvez didnt know if they had sold umbrellas to commemorate a death before.

“I just know that everyone wants to see these umbrellas,” she said.

A woman wearing a billowy blouse embroidered in gold and eating a peach Italian ice was interested in a Jackson umbrella. “So what you think, another hour?” she asked.

“I been taking numbers,” said Galvez, explaining that more umbrellas would be delivered shortly.

The woman gave hers.

“Ill call you,” Galvez said.

Moments later, a woman in a Kangol beret was looking at the display umbrellas.

“Fifteen dollars on the umbrella,” said Galvez. “45 minutes, I just talked to our guy. Hes in Queens right now. Do you have a cell phone?”

A woman with magenta nails and an armful of shopping bags followed.

“Fifteen dollars on the umbrella,” said Galvez. “Forty minutes, we got a man coming from Queens . Do you have a cell phone?”

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