Real Change vendor Shelly Cohen is the kind of guy that, when he smiles, it’s impossible not to smile back.
And when he sells Real Change at Northgate QFC, his customers can usually tell if something is wrong: “They’ll say, ‘Shelly, go home,’ and I will, because they’re the ones that can see me.”
Shelly has struggled with managing work and Type 1 diabetes since he graduated from Roosevelt High back in 1972, and when his blood sugar is off, even simple things become hard. “A nine-to-five job — for me — is a challenge. As an independent business owner, I’m doing it when I can do it.”
Shelly’s life was recently turned upside-down when managers at QFC barred him from the property. The decision wasn’t fair, and Real Change’s attempts to mediate have been ignored.
We think the Real Change community can help set things right.
Shelly earns about the same as a crossing guard as he does selling Real Change: about 12 bucks an hour. For him, neither job is about the money. Shelly’s work is about giving back to his community.When Shelly isn’t selling the newspaper, he works as a school crossing guard in Ravenna. He does five morning shifts and three afternoon shifts a week, each for one hour.
“I love what I’m doing so much, if I needed to, I could do this the rest of my life. If I had to get out to QFC using Access [transit service], in a wheelchair, I’d do it. That’s how great the community is.”
Shortly before Thanksgiving, Shelly’s worlds as crossing guard and Real Change vendor collided.
He was selling the paper at QFC when he saw a car backing toward an older woman and a child. Shelly yelled twice for the car to stop.
The driver pulled up alongside him, rolled down her window and said, “Don’t you ever yell ‘Stop’ at me again.”
According to Shelly, that’s when he “lost it.”
The 61-year-old made himself as big as his 110 pound, 5-foot-4-inch frame would allow and said, “Ma’am, I am a crossing guard, and I will yell stop again!”
Shelly went home for the day after speaking with a manager. By the time he got there, the driver had also called Real Change and the QFC District Manager.
This one customer’s complaint has led to Shelly being exiled from his community. While many of Shelly’s customers have called the QFC in support, the store is sticking with its decision.
Real Change vendors are always allowed to sell papers from a public sidewalk, but many of the best places to sell are supermarkets with private lots.
Some, like the Puget Community Co-op (pcc) stores, have always welcomed Real Change vendors. They see us as part of their community and know that their customers value the interaction.
Others, like QFC, ban Real Change vendors as a matter of policy or, as in Shelly’s case, look the other way until someone complains.
When Shelly tried to sell from the parking lot sidewalk, people he knew would just smile and wave as they drove by. He made two hurried sales in three hours.
“For me,” he said, “it’s not worth it. I live alone and need the human contact.”
QFC does not have to let Shelly sell at its store — or its parking lot.
But it’s our community. Real Change is working to get Shelly back where he belongs. Here’s how you can help:
Call your QFC and ask for the manager. Tell the manager you support Real Change vendors, and if the store wants your business, QFC should support vendors, too.
Make a donation at gofundme.com/standwithshelly. He will be selling from the QFC sidewalk until he is reinstated, and this will help make up for his lost income.
Stand in solidarity with Shelly at the 12 Ave. NE and NE Northgate Way entrance to QFC Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Find out more and follow the situation on our Facebook page or on Twitter at #StandWithShelly.
When we put our dollars where our values are, our whole community is strengthened in the process. Please take a moment to stand up for Real Change — and to keep Shelly Cohen smiling.