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Traveling Salesman

A Mount Vernon Peddler's Life on the Street

It isn't easy, living on the streets and pushing around a cart containing your entire inventory. Couser makes, on average, $15 a day; some days he doesn't make any money at all. Plus, there are the ever-present dangers of being robbed and/or having his cart vandalized (one time someone threw his cart down a highway overpass). And since he doesn't have a license to peddle, there are the police to contend with.
While others who live in Mount Vernon go to their jobs in offices and shops, Couser spends all day, every day, pushing his wagon around the neighborhood, setting up a small display when and where he can. Determined and optimistic, he says he believes "the meek shall inherit the earth, and now is the time for the meek to get ready."
Uli Loskot
It all started with collecting aluminum cans, Baltimore native Couser says. A self-described convicted drug dealer, he decided he needed to get out of the narcotics business. The problem was he liked selling too much. "I had a money jones," he says. Homeless and illiterate, his retail options were limited. So he started gathering cans out of the trash to sell for recycling. Then one day, someone gave him a load of clothes. He walked four blocks and sold them all. That's when the idea clicked, and Couser became Leroy the Wagoneer.
Currently, Couser lives under the stairs behind an old building in the neighborhood. Even sleeping on the streets, Couser rigs up his own "home-security system," which involves blocking himself into a corner with his cart and setting up tiny traps that, when sprung, make noise. If anyone tries to rob him while he's asleep, he can hear them coming. This gives him enough time to fend off invaders with the sticks and rocks he keeps close at hand. One day he hopes to have his own home and a store. "I don't want to ever be evicted again," he says. But until that happens, he vows, "I'm gonna always keep pushing the wagon and working."
Couser's had a lot of help. "I need help. Yes, I do. I need help and I realize that," he says, "So many people I can't name helped me to keep strong--alive." He credits local Mount Vernon residents and businesses like the Brewer's Art (that's bartender James Hafner shaking hands), Spike & Charlie's, and the Brass Elephant (to name a few) for food and encouragement. Couser feels that he can't disappoint them--they keep him from going backward and "they don't even know it," he says.
Couser is now a Mount Vernon fixture. He's known everywhere, including some of the neighborhood's many nightspots. But he has had to work at getting people to trust him. People have unsavory associations with the wagon based on depictions of homeless people in television and movies, he believes. Initially, people take him for a bum, crazy, schizophrenic. These attitudes hurt him, he says, but people's minds usually change once they get to know him.

By Benn Ray | Posted 8/14/2002

Leroy James Couser is a man with a unique business plan. He's the only store in Baltimore (a sort of retro/vintage/thrift store) that is completely mobile and open 24 hours.

At 53 years old and sporting a noticeable limp, Couser spends all of his time in Mount Vernon pushing around a metal shopping cart he calls his "wagon" that's loaded to the hilt with clothes, shoes, paperback books, records, and an assortment of other interesting knickknacks. He's quick to point out that the merchandise he carries isn't stolen or pulled from trash bins--people donate it. Now, after six years of pushing his cart through the neighborhood peddling all kinds of items, he says, "I'd rather push that wagon day and night than push drugs."

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