Selling Sodas at the ‘Stick
During the 1984 season I worked as a vendor selling soft drinks in the stands at the San Francisco Giants’ old stadium Candlestick Park. It was a somewhat interesting experience, and since I don’t have anything else I feel like writing about today, I’ll tell you about it.
A couple of friends from my high school and I set upon the idea to get vendor jobs at Candlestick because it seemed like a good way to make relatively good money per hour at part-time work and also presented the opportunity to catch some of the Giants’ games for free. However, the work was much less financially rewarding and a lot harder than I had expected.
As a novice vendor, we were assigned to selling sodas, which was by far the worst possible thing to be selling. The beer vendors could make $200 to $300 or more on a good day, but they all had to be 21 years old (I turned 16 late that summer) and were the most senior vendors. The hot dog sellers came next — they routinely made $100 to $200 a game, but they were also all veteran vendors.
The Giants were terrible that season, finishing 66-96, dead last in the Senior Circuit, and their games were not well attended, particularly the night games. According to Baseball Almanac, the Giants averaged only 12,365 that year, and that’s about what it felt like at the time.
It was just about impossible to sell ice cold sodas during the night games at Candlestick, a big, cold concrete stadium where the temperatures were usually in the fifties and windy. Aside from that, the trays of sodas were heavy, and I, for one, really felt it after lugging them up and down the stadium steps for three hours, particularly since I was a small kid and then weighed less than 100 pounds.
At the start of the game, each soda vendor received ten tickets, each which could be redeemed for a tray of 20 or 24 sixteen ounce sodas, I don’t remember which. The sodas were heavy enough in and of themselves, but what was far worse was the fact that the sodas were kept in place in the plastic case we strapped across our backs with heavy metal grills. Even once the sodas started to sell, the case remained heavy because of the metal grill. By some time in the 1990’s, they switched to much lighter plastic grills — believe me, I noticed not long after they made the switch.
Most of the days I went out there were day games, when sodas were easier to sell. However, it was rare that I was able to sell more than three or four trays per game. We received no hourly wage; instead, we earned, as I recall it, a 17.5% commission for each soda sold, which at that time sold for only 75 cents, so I made about 13 cents per soda or somewhere between $2.60 and $3.00 per tray. I sometimes got tips in addition to this, but a majority of the customers did not tip even the final quarter on the dollar because they were paying captive prices on the soft drinks to begin with.
The only day I had any real success was at a Sunday double-header. By the 1980’s, double-headers were on the way out, and the Giants didn’t schedule more than two or three of them a season. As a result, the attendance was big that day and the weather, at least for the first game, was warm. I sold seven or eight trays in the first game alone, but during the second game when the people had already spent their concessions money, the wind had begun to pick up and the temperature had began to drop, it took me until the seventh inning to unload the last two or three trays. If you ran out of your ten tickets, you could go back under the stadium and get some more, but by that time, I was completely knocked out after five hours hiking up and down the upper deck steps of Candlestick.
Aside from the fact that it was hard work and not particularly remunerative, it was really impossible to work and watch the ball game at the same time, which was another disappointment.
My friend James was more successful at vending than I was, and he was more persistent. As a result, before the end of the 1984 season, Harry M. Stevens Co., the Giants long-time concessioniare, promoted him up to ice cream. Unlike sodas, ice cream was much lighter, cost a $1.00 per unit and sold better, even at the night games. On top of this, James was occasionally able to nab a box of ice cream without surrendering a ticket when someone wasn’t looking, which meant pure profit on that box.
Another thing James had a lot of success with was selling hot chocolate at the night games. The hot chocolate sold for only 50 cents a cup, but for those of you who remember how cold and windy it was at night at Candlestick, you can imagine how well the hot chocolate sold.
Another thing that made hot chocolate very profitable for venders was that only two venders were assigned to sell hot chocolate in the upper deck per night game. Those two venders frequently agreed between themselves before the game to charge 75 cents per hot chocolate, which effectively quadrupled their profit on each hot chocolate sold. Needless to say, the fans never complained to management about the extra quarter; they were just glad someone was coming around with something warm with which to fight off the cold.
Another thing that made the job less profitable than it seemed at first blush was that in order to be allowed to sell, you had to be at the stadium at least an hour before game time. My friends and I didn’t have drivers’ licenses yet, let alone cars, so we relied on mass transit (SF’s Muni) to get us out to the park. Since we had to be there an hour before game time, we couldn’t take the “Ballpark Express” buses (which were themselves “express” in name only), but had to use regular bus routes involving at least one transfer of buses, since we were coming from the Sunset District (the Sunset is in the westernmost part of SF, while Candlestick was out at Candlestick Point in the extreme southeast corner of the City).
Once, we left for the ballpark a good three hours before a night game was to start, but the bus we took dumped us off somewhere in the Bayview District, and we had to wait half an hour for another bus on the same line to take us the rest of the way. We were probably only about half a mile from the ballpark, but you couldn’t see the stadium from where we were, and we had no idea how to get there. The Bayview had a reputation as a tough neighborhood, and we didn’t intend to go walking around in it not knowing exactly how to get where we were going.
As a result, we ended up arriving at Candlestick 45 minutes before the game start-time, and Harry M. Stevens Co. wouldn’t let us vend because we weren’t early enough. The people in charge let us in to watch the game for free, but even that wasn’t much consolation, because we weren’t dress for night-time weather at the ‘Stick. I had on a t-shirt, a long-sleeve sweatshirt and my yellow, half-sleeve Harry M. Stevens vendor’s jersey, and by the third or fourth inning I was freezing. At least lugging the trays of soda around, you stayed warm. Since the buses back to the Sunset wouldn’t be leaving until the game was over, there was nothing to do but tough it out.
The upshot of it all, I guess, is that you needed perseverance and a little larceny in your heart to be successful as a rookie vendor at Candlestick Park in the mid-1980’s, qualities which I didn’t have enough of.