On February 6, I participated in my second Real Change Day of Heroes, in which community members are paired with a vendor-mentor to sell papers in the streets of downtown Seattle.
My vendor-mentor was the soft-spoken Art Ermeloff, with kind eyes and a bushy salt-and-pepper mustache. Last year it was Steve, a tall, affable man who pitched his papers to passersby in a booming voice.
Art’s sales approach was different: He stood nearly motionless in one spot holding his papers at chest level, his small portable speaker playing rock music at a medium volume on the utility box beside him.
“Real Change newspaper,” he’d say quietly, “Award-winning journalism.”
Despite their varying approaches, what vendors have in common is patience and persistence — a willingness to connect to the sidewalk life of the city with grace and hope.
After our two hours together, both Art and Steve were eager to go sell more papers to the many locals who appreciate them as familiar neighborhood fixtures. They take the job seriously.
At Pike Place Market with Art, standing in the sunlight within sight of the famous Public Market sign, I watched two construction cranes work the skyline.
A stream of tourists and workers shuffled past, and midday traffic clopped along the cobbled street. A small bird chittered atop a sticker-plastered stop sign. Grunge music spilled out of Art’s speaker — hits from Soundgarden to Pearl Jam. It was the most “Seattle” moment I’ve experienced in a long time, with Real Change at the center of it. The paper’s mission spans eras, neighborhoods, boom-and-bust cycles, shifting human conditions.
Before Art and I parted ways, he quietly slipped me a recent issue that featured a vendor profile on him. If I wanted to learn more about him, I should read it, he said.
I learned that he was born in Alaska to an Aleut father and a Haida mother. He spent his childhood as a Navy brat in San Diego and later returned to the Pacific Northwest to take care of family. He’s experienced homelessness and alcoholism, and he makes fine beaded jewelry. Sometimes he and a friend pool their money to bring food to a local nonprofit day program.
Real Change tells the story of Seattle from the perspective of the people who sell the paper — people like Art and Steve. When you buy a paper from them, you’re buying in to that mission.
You’re affirming that their stories and their immediate needs matter. For a city that’s lost touch with those stories and needs as it chases the latest lucrative bubble, there’s no mission more crucial.
Vendor Profile: Art Ermeloff
Director's Corner: Selling the paper is often harder than it looks
Vendor Week: Smile, wave, make eye contact
Brett Hamil is a writer, comedian, cartoonist, talk show host and filmmaker. He hosts a quarterly political comedy talk show at Northwest Film Forum, The Seattle Process. He also co-produces a weekly comedy showcase at the Clockout Lounge on Beacon Hill every Wednesday night, Joketellers Union.
Read the full Feb. 13 - 19 issue.
Real Change is a non-profit organization advocating for economic, social and racial justice. Since 1994 our award-winning weekly newspaper has provided an immediate employment opportunity for people who are homeless and low income. Learn more about Real Change.