"... no one believed his answer to the 'So what do you do?' question: 'I sell potato peelers on the street.'"

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One of Joe Ades' vegetable peelers. Photograph from La Mariposa on Flickr

If you live in New York or have visited as a tourist, it's more than likely you've seen the compelling salesmanship of Joe Ades, vegetable-peeler extraordinaire. Mr. Ades died on Sunday. He was 75.

Mr. Ades' five-minute pitch was hypnotic, and whenever I saw him on a corner—in Midtown, at Union Square (he had various favorite locations)—I'd always stop to watch, even though I'd seen his spiel countless times and even though I had already bought a couple of his peelers. (They really do work well and, as he claimed, mine has never needed sharpening.)

With bins full of vegetables, Ades would demonstrate the utility of the stainless steel Swiss peeler that made him a wealthy man ("one for $5, two for $10, five for $20"). He'd deftly remove the eyes from potatoes and show how easy it was to julienne carrots or to slice them into stars ("you do that for the kids and they'll eat their veggies"). [A video of Mr. Ades in action appears after the jump.]

Always nattily dressed in a suit and tie, no matter the weather, Ades was the subject of numerous magazine and newspaper articles that recounted his almost Dickensian trajectory from Manchester, England, to the streets of New York City.

As the New York Times says in Mr. Ades' obituary:

His was a particular kind of street theater in a city that delights in in-your-face characters who are, and are not, what they seem. For he was the sidewalk pitchman with the Upper East Side apartment. The sidewalk pitchman who was a regular at expensive East Side restaurants, where no one believed his answer to the “So what do you do?” question: “I sell potato peelers on the street.” Mr. Ades (pronounced AH-dess) died on Sunday at 75, said his daughter, Ruth Ades Laurent of Manhattan. She said he never talked about how many peelers he sold in a year, or how many carrots he had sliced up during demonstrations. She said he stashed his inventory in what had been the maid’s room of the apartment.

So entrancing was his pitch that I'd always wanted to muster the resources of Serious Eats and do a short video documentary on Mr. Ades. But like many of the city's unofficial landmarks and quirky treasures we take for granted, he passed from the scene far too early. This video, though, captures the essence of this charming self-described grafter.

Our condolences go out to Mr. Ades' family and friends. He will be missed.

Joe Ades, the Peeler Guy of New York

Related

His Stage, the Street; His Rapier, a Peeler [New York Times]
RIP Joe Ades, Union Square Peeler Peddler [SE Talk]
The Gentleman Grafter [Vanity Fair]
Perfect Pitch [New York Daily News]
Potato Peelers Put Him on Park Avenue [MSNBC]

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