Selling icy desserts offers life lessons to some, life raft to others

The bottom line for some local street vendors is to keep money coming in. “This is my way of staying above water,” one seller said.

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Antonia Rueda prepares a snowball outside Neveria La Poblanita in Marquette Park. The 60-year-old grandmother began selling the summer treat as a way to get her four grandkids involved in the family business.

Antonia Rueda prepares a snowball outside Neveria La Poblanita in Marquette Park. The 60-year-old grandmother began selling the summer treat as a way to get her four grandkids involved in the family business.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Antonia Rueda waits for the days her grandkids visit to open the snowball stand in front of her Marquette Park eatery, Neveria La Poblanita. Inside she sells Mexican food, but if the snowball stand is what gets the four kids involved, she’s happy.

“I teach them to do it. That way, they can learn to rely on themselves. They never have to ask someone for money. They never have to come to me for money,” said the 60-year-old grandmother from Puebla, Mexico.

The small business owner lets the kids keep what they earn; but, often, she or her youngest daughter — their aunt Rocio — helps out. Located kitty-corner to the park, weekends can be busy, and Rocio said she often runs inside and out to serve customers.

Rocio Rueda, left, and her mother, Antonia, stand by their snowball stand outside of Neveria La Poblanita in Marquette Park.

Rocio Rueda, left, and her mother, Antonia, stand by their snowball stand outside of Neveria La Poblanita in Marquette Park.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The flavored syrup-covered ice desserts are a refreshing way to cool down customers on hot summer days while offering enterprising salespeople a chance to earn extra cash. It may be pocket change for some, but for others, the money helps tide them over until times get better.

Her first summer selling snowballs, Kim Simmons of Garfield Park keeps it simple, selling only the summer treat. The 59-year-old has been out of work since a debilitating back injury a few years ago and started selling snowballs to cover costs between disability checks. “This is my way of staying above water,” she said.

Getting started took about $100, she said, between the foam cups, straws, syrups, ice and a cooler. Earnings are small, she said, around $60 per day.

“Not a lot of money, but it’s something to do and sell, other than something illegal,” she said.

She recommends newcomers buy as many flavors as possible. “They’re going to always ask for a color you didn’t get,” she said.

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Antonia Rueda prepares a snowball outside Neveria La Poblanita in Marquette Park.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Nearby, on West Lake Street, Darnell Moore was ready for that scenario. A man coming off the CTA looked over Moore’s stand and asked him, “You got green?” not seeing it among the chips, cookies and other snacks Moore laid out. “Yes, sir,” Moore said.

“Green apple, right?” the man responded. “That’s right,” Moore said, pleased to not disappoint.

Moore has sold snowballs on and off for years, learning it from his mother and grandmother. But after being laid off from his warehouse job last December, he is coming out more this year, trying to sell on Lake Street for at least a couple of hours whenever it’s hot.

“Only reason why I’m doing it right now is I don’t have a job. Until somebody calls me for work, I got to make some kind of income,” said the 58-year-old.

Back in Marquette Park, Rueda is still waiting for her 10-year-old grandson to arrive. He said he would come, but she’s doubtful. After asking their grandmother to set up the stand, they have learned it’s not easy.

“‘Grandma, I’m tired,’” she said they’ll say. “Tired? But you just got here,” she’ll say. She smiled and shook her head. “Now they get to understand how it is to really work.”

Antonia Rueda prepares a snowball as her daughter, Rocio, watches outside Neveria La Poblanita in Marquette Park.

Antonia Rueda prepares a snowball as her daughter, Rocio, watches outside Neveria La Poblanita in Marquette Park.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.

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