I was sitting in the lawn near Grand Army Plaza with a friend on Sunday, early evening, when a guy selling nutcrackers out of a granny cart walked up to us. Were we down? God, yes. The warm breeze was an indication that it'd be kind of insane if I made it to Monday morning without the drink—usually some combination of different hard liquors and fruity juices.
"How much?" we asked. He told us it'd be $15 for a 16-ounce bottle. I was kind of stunned, as I'd never paid that much before. We said we’d split one, to which he responded that it was pretty late in the day already so he'd drop the price to two for $20. The traveling salesman—that's how he described himself—asked if we wanted mango or rum punch? We were charmed, took one of each, and handed over $20 plus an extra $2 for tip. As the man said, a taste of the Caribbean had arrived. That first sip of that sweet, mysterious mixture was strong, the good kind of strong. Summer had begun.
But still, that $15 initial price point lingered on my mind. Was it inflation? Did his landlord just raise his rent? (Very possible!) Did we nearly just get bamboozled???! Naturally, I fired off a tweet about it, which, bizarrely, blew up because apparently I'm not alone in thinking that's kinda wild! The Post blogged it, and blamed Joe Biden in the headline, which, uh, okay? Some responded they still found nutcrackers for $10; others reminisced of days when they were cheaper—something I've never personally witnessed, but that may be due to my relative new-ness to New York. (Nearly a decade, but lifers won’t let you forget you're a transplant.)
I called another vendor to investigate. Shabba (that's his business name) has been selling nutcrackers since 2015. His business, Forbidden Drinks, has since expanded to boozy cupcakes, alcohol-free juices with sea moss, push pops, and coquito. His team of three either delivers, or sells at semi-pro football games, barbecues, parks, and beaches.
They're still selling a 16-ounce plastic bottle of a typical nutcracker for $10. He told me that hasn't changed since 2015. "I'm still beating the competition," Shabba, a Queens resident who's also a substitute teacher and a health worker at a hospital, told me. "I feel like I will kill the competition just by keeping the lower prices so you get more business. At least, that's the way that I go about it."
But some of his costs have gone up. A case of 500 plastic bottles used to be $95. Now, it's $130, he said. Certain kinds of alcohol, which he can't purchase at a warehouse, have gone up in price at liquor stores, too. "I bought four bottles of liquor and it came out to $100, and I'm like, 'Woah, what the hell?'" he said.
Shabba shops around for better deals on products—information he keeps to himself when chatting with other vendors. He speculated that some people are raising prices because they haven't been able to find the same deals on products. For instance, he's heard of some people paying $200 for just 150 plastic bottles.
"I get a lot of bottles cheap [which lets me] be able to keep my prices low," he said.
In any case, I don't know why that vendor in Prospect Park told me $15 per drink. Maybe I should have just shelled out an extra few bucks and paid it. What am I really gonna do with that $5? In all likelihood, I'll probably keep it in my wallet 'til I end up at a cash-only bar or teary-eyed in front of an especially heartwarming subway musician. Passing along a few extra bucks to a fellow New Yorker amid a pattern of government failures to help us stay afloat seems reasonable. Next time, I'll manage with the higher price point if it means someone else can manage too.