This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
You can hear them calling in the street.
They lean on corners, squat on milk crates, rest on folding chairs – angling for a buck.
At the bustling intersection where Erie and Germantown Avenues slice through North Broad Street, they occupy every corner, calling to passersby:
They’re the city’s black market cigarette hawks.
From packs semi-hidden in coat pockets or under thighs, the hawks sell individual "loosie" cigarettes. On a recent hot Friday afternoon, the going rate on North Broad was 50 cents a pop.
One seller who declined to be named – resting wearily against a bodega storefront – offered a bleak portrait of his business.
"It’s real bad," he said. "You don’t make that much money."
At this point, this seller and others mostly peddle to smokers who don’t have the cash on hand for a whole pack or teens who can’t buy legally.
Soon though, the entire dynamic could change.