I live a few blocks from the Barclays Center, the arena that’s home to the Brooklyn Nets and New York Islanders. Like many arenas across the country, it often doesn’t accept digital tickets; they have to be printed out. On paper. Like it’s still 2005. I grumble about that every time I go to a game, and have more than once said aloud, “Someone needs to just stand out here with a printer.” It’s a classic white space -- a need going unfilled in the marketplace.
Then while walking past the Barclays Center this winter, I came across a man filling that need exactly as I’d envisioned: He has a big sign with the words “I PRINT” on top, and a wireless printer at the ready. I was so excited, I immediately ran over to say hi.
His name is Winston Walker, and when he was a teenager, he worked for a broker buying and selling tickets near Yankee Stadium. He kept doing it as an adult. “But the business changed when the internet got involved,” he said. As people could buy secondhand tickets on StubHub and similar sites, they stopped buying on the street. “I had to think of something different, because I basically wasn’t making any money.”
We talked about where his idea to print tickets came from, and how he executed it.
So how did all of this start?
I decided I was going to stop selling, and start printing tickets. But I didn’t know how I was going to do it. I thought about it, I spoke about it, and I was trying to figure out how I could get the equipment together. Then one day I saw it being done outside a stadium and I almost fainted. I almost threw up on myself. I couldn’t believe it.
Christmas was coming around, and my wife was online playing with the computer, and Amazon offered her $1,000 worth of credit. She called me and said. “I’ve just been approved for this money.” She asked me if I wanted a pair of boots. I said no, I want a printer. And she got me the printer.
What did you do then—just stand outside an arena and try finding someone who needs their tickets printed?
I went to Madison Square Garden one day, and I was walking through one of the little areas and saw two guys on the way to a hotel, or wherever they were being sent to print their tickets. So I approached them and said, "I have a printer in my backpack." I explained to them how I’d do it. They trusted me enough to do it. And it worked. I charged them $5 a piece, but they only had a $20 bill, and I was so broke that I didn’t have the change to give them. So after I printed the tickets, I told them I’d be back, and went to one of my friends who was scalping tickets. I got money from him, then came back -- but the guys I’d printed tickets for were gone.
I was so excited, it didn’t really matter. It was the best $10 that I ever got beat out of. Just to do it was fascinating.
Now you have a more professional operation. Rather than being a guy with a backpack, you have a whole display setup. How’d that happen?
At first, I began to pick up on the behavior of people who need their tickets printed. I could see them run back and forth across the street, looking to how to do it. But I knew that if a guy approaches you and offers to print your tickets, you’d think he’s crazy. So I got a sign. Now they'd come over to me and say, “Oh, you print tickets?” I said I’ll do it right here, on the spot. They can email their tickets to me and I’ll print them, or if their phone has Bluetooth, they can connect to my printer themselves.
The people at the Barclays Center noticed that I was doing it, and that it was getting done. So then they started sending people to me.
Now you’re legit enough that the arena itself is sending you business! But what about the cops—do they ever give you trouble?
I pride myself on doing exactly what I intend to do, which is print tickets. Because there’s a problem on the street with phony tickets. I try to be as reliable and honest with the people. So the cops don’t bother me. They get asked the same question—where can I print my tickets at? Sometimes they’ll even send people over to me. It was like a dream come true. I’d never experienced anything like that before.