Last Saturday afternoon, I spent three hours in the pouring rain, standing with Shelly Cohen at the entrance of the Northgate QFC.
It was, in a word, miserable. And it was a reminder of how lucky I am to only have to experience this by choice.
I went back on Sunday, from 11 a.m to 2 p.m,, to do it again. And Shelly and I had company. Over the two days, about 20 people came by to stand with Shelly.
Shelly is the vendor who was recently banned from Northgate QFC for being a Good Samaritan. He works as a school crossing guard five days a week, and when he saw a car in the QFC parking lot backing toward a woman and a baby, he yelled for the driver to stop.
The driver took exception to being spoken to this way by the likes of Shelly.
She complained to the QFC district manager, who responded by banning not just Shelly but all Real Change vendors from the property.
This may not be the greatest injustice in the history of the universe, but I can tell you this: A Shelly-sized hole has been ripped in the heart of that community, and there are a lot of people who want to make it right.
As things stand now, no more will Shelly’s customers hear him say, “Smiling makes you live longer,” or “Make it a better day.” They will only feel his absence.
One of Shelly’s supporters started gofundme.com/standwithshelly . The idea was to make up for lost sales over the holiday while he protested the ban.
In less than a week, 58 people contributed $2,337 toward the $1,500 goal.
As we stood with our signs last weekend, dozens of people went in to complain to management. A number of them said that, unless Shelly was restored, they would not shop there again.
Michelle Wynn was one of them. She is great-grandmother to the 20-month-old baby she was carrying when Shelly yelled “stop” to a careless driver.
“I just feel terrible,” she said to me as we stood with our signs. “This man saved me, and this is what he gets?”
Three generations of Wynns went in to plead Shelly’s case, and management told them it was out of their hands.
When customers complain, they get handed a photocopied note on QFC letterhead. It reads:
“Dear Valued QFC Customer,
“We regret that the situation with Real Change has reached this point. We did try in good faith to work with them on a solution, but were unable to reach a mutually agreeable compromise. We wish Shelly and Real Change the best in their continued sales and business endeavors.
“We do take your concerns seriously. To have QFC officially record and consider your comments about this situation, please call, 1-866-221-4141.
“Sincerely, QFC Management.”
On the face of it, none of this appears to be true.
The “compromise” QFC offered was for Shelly to move to another store that has a public sidewalk, where he could sell without its permission and to ban any Real Change vendor from its property.
This didn’t strike us as being much on an offer.
The phone number is the national Kroger web services and online accounts help line. When I phoned, the operator in Cincinnati seemed perplexed as to why I was calling.
Is this how a store that respects its customers and community behaves?
Real Change stands behind our vendors. We understand that community and connection are what makes life worth living.
We’ll be back at the QFC Dec. 19 and 20, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., holding signs, supporting Shelly and appealing to his community.
We’d like you to join us.
We also hope that you’ll take a moment to support our Holiday Fund Drive. With two weeks left to go, we are less than half way to our critical $232,000 end-of-year goal.
It takes a community to make Real Change, and we know we can count on the incredible generosity of our supporters. Every gift counts. Please make your donation today at main.realchangenews.org. Thank you.