An arabber (or a-rab) is a street merchant who sells fruits and vegetables from a colorful, horse-drawn cart. Once a common sight in American East Coast cities, only a handful of arabbers still walk the streets of Baltimore.

History of Arabbing

The term "arabber" is believed to derive from the 19th century British English slang term "street arabs" (perhaps because of the nomadic lifestyle of some Arab people [] , see also street urchin). Arabbing began in the early 1800s, when access to ships and stables made it an easy form of entrepreneurship. African American men entered the trade following the Civil War. [] Brightly painted and artfully arranged, arabber carts became a common sight on the streets of Baltimore. To alert city dwellers to their arrival, arabbers developed distinctive calls:

"Holler, holler, holler, till my throat get sore."

"If it wasn't for the pretty girls, I wouldn't have to holler no more."

"I say, Watermelon! Watermelon!"

"Got 'em red to the rind, lady." []

During World War II, factory jobs opened to white laborers, leaving arabbing an exclusively African American vocation. [] By then arabbing was already in decline, threatened by the expansion of supermarkets and the dearth of public stables. In the later 20th century, arabbers faced additional challenges from city zoning and vending regulations, and from animal rights advocates concerned about the health and welfare of the horses.

In 1994, the Arabber Preservation Society was founded to help bring the Retreat Street stable, which had been condemned, up to city building codes. [] The society continues to renovate and promote the preservation of the stables serving the remaining arabbers, who number fewer than a dozen. Besides providing a nostalgic glimpse of the past, arabbers still serve a practical purpose, bringing fresh produce and other goods to urban neighborhoods that are underserved by grocery stores.

Arabbing in the Media

*The documentary "We Are Arabbers" (2004) by filmmakers Scott Kecken and Joy Lusco Kecken profiles contemporary arabbers.

*Arabbers appear in the television series "The Wire", partly written by the documentary film-maker Joy Lusco Kecken.

*The first season of the television series "" featured a plotline about an arabber suspected of murdering a little girl.

*The Arabz led by Skarr Akbar are a Baltimore rap group named after the practice in honor of their hometown.


* [ Arabber Preservation Society Home Page] , retrieved December 27, 2006.
* [ "The Wanderers' Songs"] , Catherine Finn, "Preservation Online", November 3, 2006.
* [ "Baltimore: No Harbor for Entrepreneurs"] DEAD LINK, Scott G. Bullock, retrieved December 26, 2006.

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