Debbie DeBusk knows how to vend the news. Even before she started selling Real Change in 2008, she sold The Seattle Daily Times and the Post-Intelligencer in downtown Seattle. Vending Real Change is different because it does not require an assigned location or a schedule, aspects she adjusted to quickly.
DeBusk currently posts up for Real Change in Magnolia, at the Seattle neighborhood’s post office, where she enjoys solid relationships with her customers.
Debbie put a lot of thought into choosing her spot in front of the Magnolia post office. She tried the market in Magnolia, but it was slow in the mornings and someone else sold Real Change there in the afternoon. Albertson’s was even slower. Then there was Starbucks.
“Starbucks goes in spurts. You get so many now — then you get another two, three and so on. I looked across the street, saw that post office and said, ‘Man, there’s a lot of people going in there.’”
She has made friends with the workers at the post office, and the selling — pre-COVID — was consistently good. She remembers better days, saying that some, “I couldn’t even hold them in my hand for more than five minutes.” Everyone passing her would say, “I’ll have one! Give me one!”
“I wish I could have a day like that all the time!”
DeBusk, who is an expert in this, says some issues of Real Change sell much better than others. “Some of them are dull on the front page, like that time it was kind of brown, hardly any design.” She thinks if there’s something on the cover that’s bright, the issue tends to be a big seller.
DeBusk stopped selling The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer when the latter stopped printing and then when The Times discontinued weekday street sales.
She wishes Real Change had the look and feel of a daily paper — a larger format, a sports page and more comics. Once she might have even drawn comics herself. “I used to like to draw, but I take medication and that tires me out so much now.”
As far as newspaper format, she says papers like The Times used to be larger. “If you look at some old TV shows like ‘I Love Lucy,’ [one of her favorites] aren’t their newspapers really big? Just think of trying to hold a newspaper in your hands that big!”
Her husband wants a sports page, too. “He used to be a Seahawks season ticket holder until the price started going up.” Debbie would go with him to Kingdome games. “The prices were cheaper. I have never been to a game in the new stadium.”
DeBusk was born and raised in Seattle. She has spent her whole life here and doesn’t see herself leaving anytime soon. She’s watched this city transform, along with her family. When she was 12, her father passed away; she and her mother and her five siblings were forced to abandon their West Seattle home and relocate to the Admiral District. After graduating high school, Debbie went to work making parts for Boeing and other large, industrial companies. Today, she lives in permanent housing with her husband of nearly 40 years.
Over the last several years, while selling news stories on the streets of Seattle, Debbie has seen a lot. She loves to tell of the people she meets, the dogs she sees and the strange scenes that sometimes get acted out before her while she works.
She loves observing the characters in her community, even when sales are slow.
“It’s hard sometimes when I say ‘Good morning’ and they don’t even look at me. But a lot of people just don’t know about Real Change. They come around eventually,” she said.
Patience is one quality that makes DeBusk successful in her paper sales. “Always polite and never pushy” is her mantra — and she takes it seriously.
Talking about interactions with her customers, she says, “We both say ‘Hello’ and we both say ‘Thank you.’ It’s always easy with them, and that’s a good thing. Once in a while, I’ll get a 20 from somebody, and the people are nice to me.’”
DeBusk’s favorite part of Real Change is the people.
“[My customers] are good to me, and I have gotten comments on how I, you know, approach the people — I don’t get angry or something.”
DeBusk said the newspaper has drawn in people she’s never seen before. “But that makes me feel good, you know, when I can sell good, more here or there, and almost every day I’d go home with maybe one paper, two papers [left over]. But yeah, that makes me feel good.”
Read more of the Feb. 3-9, 2021 issue.