The Pope in Philly

Licenses, permits and Papal flags: How to be a vendor during the Pope’s visit


When Pope Francis comes in September, the easiest way to profit will be getting the hell out of town and renting your apartment on AirBNB. But if you want to stay, you’ll have an opportunity to make money as well, by selling food or memorabilia. With a possible two million people in town, they’ll certainly want something to eat or a memento to help them remember seeing the Pope.

In Philadelphia, you can’t just stand on a street corner with a cooler full of Aquafina and watch the dollars roll in. There’s a process. Here are some specifics about how you can become a vendor, the best areas to sell and ideas for selling the right items.

Get a permit

Let’s assume you want to do this in the easiest way possible, on foot. In this case, you’ll need a sidewalk sales license.

Before you get one, you’re going to need a couple other things: a Business Income and Receipts Tax ID and a Commercial Activity License. And get them in that order. You need the BIRT ID to get the commercial license.

Once you’ve applied for those, you can apply for the actual vendor license. It will cost you $300 if you plan on doing sidewalk sales. You’ll also need to provide the area in which you plan to sell, a description of yourself and the description of what you plan to sell.

Oh, and there’s more: If you’re going to sell food, you’ll need to get some more permits from the Department of Health.

Where you should set up

Representatives from the Department of Licenses and Inspections did not respond to multiple requests about rules for vending, including possible special restrictions during the Pope’s visit. But they probably won’t let vendors directly on the Parkway, especially during the Papal mass. It will be best to canvass the surrounding areas. The last time the Pope was here, in 1979, vendors were scattered throughout Fairmount and Spring Garden, close enough to the action but faraway enough to be unbothered by security.

It will probably also make sense to set up near transit centers. For Regional Rail, Jefferson, University City and 30th Street will be in use in Center City. For now, Cecil B. Moore is the closest subway station open during the visit.

Sell the right items

Water, pretzels, hot dogs. Certainly, simple food and drink items will be in demand when the Pope is around. But you could also try to sell merchandise. During Francis’ recent South American visit, vendors were selling statuettes of him, cardboard cutoutscrucifixes bearing his image, key chains, t-shirts, headbands and much more.

When Pope John Paul II visited Philadelphia in 1979, the most popular items were papal flags. Stores and vendors couldn’t meet the demand. Flags were also popular in Ecuador during Francis’ recent visit.

People in 1979 were also selling bibles and pope medallions. A couple of kids were even selling $1 jars of water that they said people could get blessed. Those didn’t sell so well.


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