SALEM — They say when opportunity knocks, open the door. Or, in the case of Vinny Ercolano, the window.
Ercolano, a 66-year-old retired truck driver and cabbie, happens to live across the street from two courthouses on Federal Street in Salem.
Those courthouses have rules that prevent most visitors from bringing their cellphones inside, leaving those who didn’t drive to court scrambling for a place to leave them.
Ercolano saw people hiding phones in various locations up and down his street. And a light bulb went on.
“I figure I’m close, I’m right near the courthouse,” Ercolano said through his open first-floor window, which faces the sidewalk.
Shortly after the J. Michael Ruane Judicial Center opened last year, Ercolano hung out a handmade sign, on white cardboard, offering to hold phones. He got a few customers here and there.
But he realized he needed a better marketing strategy. A friend suggested neon.
“I’m thinking, ‘neon, with the tubes and lights,’” Ercolano said, but the friend was talking about the day-glo colored card stock often used for yard sales and school projects.
So Ercolano headed to Staples, picked up a few sheets, and went to work. Since the signs went up last week, business has taken off.
He made $80 one day.
Sure, there are restaurants downtown that offer to hold cellphones for less money, as little as $2.
“But look how close I am,” said Ercolano. And, he points out, he doesn’t charge extra if a person wants to make a quick phone call during a court recess.
Ercolano hasn’t had any complaints thus far. He knows a lot of the Salem police officers. “One of them came up and told me, ‘That’s a good idea,’” he said.
What does he do if he has to leave during the day, he was asked.
He doesn’t, he explained, except for Mondays, when he schedules all of his medical appointments. So on Mondays, his window stays closed.
Ercolano isn’t one to miss a chance to make a little extra money to supplement his Social Security check. During a recent classic cars parade, people were offering him $20 to let them take his photo with their cars.
“They say I look like Elvis,” said Ercolano.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.