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Selling Prime Real Estate Near Wrigley

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By S.L. Wisenberg

There are always men--never women--who don't believe we really live in our six-flat down the alley from Wrigley, don't believe that we really own the parking spaces we're selling. Perhaps they're put off by those two grim words on the nearby sign: Lincoln Towing. So we reassure them.

"We're the ones who would be calling the tow truck," I say. "And we won't." Sometimes I give them my last name, tell them they could go around front and check the name on the doorbell. Still, some guys want more proof. I say, "See that balcony? That's my condo." "What kind of flowers are those up there?" asked one. "Geraniums, " I said. He had to check with his wife. "Are those geraniums?" he asked. He took the space, hoping, I imagine, that I was telling the truth, that his $20 or $25 had bought a safe spot, that he could watch the Cubs game without worrying about his car, certain that it would greet him, unchanged, untouched, whenever he came back to it, during or after the game. After all, my sign made from a manila folder says "E-Z Out."

Several years ago, my neighbor Carrie says, some kids sold all the alley space and the tow trucks came. Oh. That may explain some of the reluctance. Still, I've always prided myself on my honest face and take it personally when I'm not believed.

I really do own the space--the South Shore Bank and I. I use my time to sell space. Which I pay for on time. Meanwhile we help create demand by parking on the street early in the day. We have up to six spaces in the alley to sell. We work alone and together: one to stand near the street with the signs, another to guide the car and take the money. We shout to each other or show by our fingers how much we're charging, depending on the market. On cold days I've fantasized about also running a concession selling secondhand sweaters and blankets. Sometimes we get confused, can't hear, say, "Whatever she told you is fine." Last summer, we developed an etiquette of cooperation: We'd write notes on the message board: "If you're selling, please sell for 2-N." And if on that day some of the spaces garnered, say, $20, and others only $15, then the people in 2-N would get the lesser fee, usually delivered in an envelope left on the doormat. It's nice to come home to $20 or even $15 just sitting there. You can't put the money under the door of the dog owners' units.

We have a strategy. It's best to wait until after the anthem to go out. The longer you wait, the more desperate they are. On the other hand, you can get started so late that you miss them completely. At times the scene at the end of the alley is festive, a mini block party. My downstairs neighbors bring the dog, for curb appeal. We talk to people who live in nearby buildings. Through selling, I've met the retired man from down the alley, trim gray hair and beard, T-shirt, who sells his garage spaces and won't bargain. He has "sugar diabetes," and told us he remembers when he was fighting in the Pacific and got the letter from his parents saying they'd bought a house. The one he now lives in alone. He used to shout if he thought we were undercutting or grabbing a parker out of turn. He calls one of my neighbors, who is not particularly short, "Shorty." We see him around during the rest of the year, we talk about the neighborhood. The other day he brought us some granola and anise wafers.

Sometimes the drivers react to our price with derision and keep on going. Other ones at other times are grateful for a space after circling around and around. They get disoriented, almost unbelieving, when we point down the alley to Wrigley Field: "You're right there."

At the beginning of last season we were amateurs. Then we printed out signs to place in the windshields: "Guest of unit no. __. Good for (date), an hour after game ends." We'd say, "Keep your keys, enjoy the game." When I was away last summer my subletter made about $200. He was thrilled, I heard.

Last year one potential parker--a suburban lawyer, I was sure--was especially skeptical of us and the spaces. "Why are you so suspicious?" I started to ask him and then he backed into a truck. He didn't park with us.

At our last condo meeting, our in-house lawyer said it was only a matter of time until there'd be a lawsuit. Even if the parkers were to sign a disclaimer, if someone hit their cars, they could sue. Anyone can file a frivolous lawsuit. Maybe that's why the selling got off to a slow start this season. We went into business just this week. My neighbor Barry--who has no space to sell--says, "You can't be doing it for the money. It's just a couple hundred dollars. Why do you do it? It must be to be part of the whole scene." He mentions the deep emerald field, the bright unreal lights at the night games, the vendors and drummers, the general air of carnival.

I wonder. I discuss this with Carrie. "Naw," she says, it's the money. You stand outside for five minutes and get $25.

She's right. There's no other way, as far as I can tell, to make that much money in so little time without doing heavy lifting or risking exposure to a sexually transmitted disease. So in Wrigleyville we participate in the grand national sport: making a fast buck.

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