If you happen to be in Camden feeling a little parched, go to Marlton Pike and Baird Boulevard and find my new favorite entrepreneur, Isaiah Cruz.
The 16-year-old is one of the young men at busy intersections here scrambling to sell $1 bottles of ice-cold water to motorists. He’s got a signature greeting.
“Thank you. God Bless. I appreciate it. Have a nice day.”
Up to 12 hours every day this summer, you’ll see him.
A couple of Sundays ago, Cruz and a friend were hanging out on a nearby porch after a long day of water sales when a couple of guys approached them.
The men, Cruz said, were wearing dark clothing and masks. One pointed a gun at him and ordered: “Give me everything,” before going into Cruz’s pockets and taking his money.
“I thought I was going to die because that’s what happens around here,” Cruz said.
The thieves made off with about $70 from his friend, and about three weeks’ worth of Cruz’s profits, upward of $1,000. They also took his iPhone.
I know what you’re thinking. He knows what you’re thinking. His grandmother, Elsa Reyes, had warned him not to keep so much money on him, and not to flash it on social media.
Now he was walking home with empty pockets and a whole lot of regrets. Cruz didn’t call police; he wouldn’t be able to identify the thieves, he said.
At home that night, Reyes noticed her grandson seemed a little off. After some prodding, he told her what happened.
She was relieved he was safe, but shuddered at the thought of what could have happened.
Cruz started selling water to help out with bills after his grandfather passed away last year, despite his grandmother assuring him they were fine.
“All I want you to do is go to school,” she told Cruz, who is going into 10th grade next year. (She does let him pay the internet bill every once in a while.)
But Cruz kept at it, despite its lack of popularity with his peers.
“Even though a lot of girls my age say, ‘Oh … he sells water …,’ I really don’t care because I’m doing something positive. It’s better than selling drugs.”
His grandmother laid down some new rules: If he was going to keep selling water, he had to be home before dark. She’d also stop by more between shifts driving Uber to check on him and pick up his money for safekeeping.
It didn’t take long for word to spread on social media that one of the area “water boys” had been robbed. Neighbors rallied. After seeing a post on Facebook, Micah Khan, a Camden community activist who knows the family, drove to Cruz’s corner. Selling water for many kids in the neighborhood can mean the difference between going hungry or getting fed, he said. Kids can get territorial about their spots, but not Cruz.
“We don’t have to argue,” Cruz said. “I want to see everybody eat.”
Cruz was still shaken up when he shared the details of the robbery with Khan, who was there to see what he could do to restore some of his lost profits. But also, to impart some wisdom.
“It’ll be a blessing in disguise,” Khan assured Cruz. And so, it has been.
Someone slipped Cruz a $100 bill. Others dropped off cases of water. Guys from the neighborhood, some of whom came up selling water on those same corners, stopped to offer all kinds of advice:
Get a bank account, they told him.
Get a membership at BJ’s or Costco so he could clear a better profit by buying his waters in bulk.
They’ve donated to his Cash App: $zayzay27st.
He’s gotten a few job offers, too, though Cruz’s entrepreneurial spirit isn’t quite done slinging water. He wants to replace his phone, get school clothes, and maybe even the new PlayStation 5 when it’s released. He wants to keep helping his grandmother, too, one bottle of ice-cold water at a time.