Charmaine Cooley is an “Army Brat” without the typical world traveling. When Cooley’s dad realized he was going to be a single father, he enlisted in the Army to be able to support her, and Cooley lived with her grandparents while he was enlisted. They all moved from Detroit when she was almost 5, so she considers Seattle home.
Cooley graduated from Ballard High School and has lived in Seattle’s north end for the last 10 years. In that time, she’s seen the rent in her small apartment complex go up by almost 50%. To make ends meet she needed some additional income. After learning about Real Change, she decided to give it a try.
Cooley started selling the paper in March of this year during the pandemic. Within her first month, she was on the RC Top 10 Vendor list for high sales.
She has a natural way of talking to people and always has a smile for them. It’s now been a few months and Cooley has a permanent post at the Metropolitan Market on Queen Anne.
Board member and volunteer Maria Elena Ramirez can attest to Cooley’s instincts. “I had the great pleasure of meeting Charmaine. This inspirational young woman was standing in the sun — it was so hot — her eyes smiling, selling the paper. We introduced ourselves. I stated I was a volunteer and asked if she was the gal who has had much success in a very short period of time with RC. I mentioned her success was shared with the board of directors. Cooley was elated, surprised and asked ‘Really? Me?’”
Cooley says her grandmother was very influential in her life. Growing up in the South, her grandmother, born in 1926, was the “typical Southern Black woman singing at the church steps welcoming people” every Sunday. She cooked as a profession and sewed as a hobby. After they settled in Seattle, her grandmother would walk into Nordstrom and see a garment she liked and go home and make it herself! Christmas and Thanksgiving are particularly special for Cooley thinking about all the good food and family that would come together in her grandmother’s kitchen. Cooley didn’t realize the influence her grandmother had on others until her funeral. As they were leaving the funeral home headed to the gravesite there was a mile-long procession of cars and so many people Cooley didn’t even know that had come together to share their love of Grandma Trudie.
Cooley would like to travel and visit New York and Africa, which she considers her motherland. She’d like to take an ancestry test someday to find out which part of Africa her family is from. She’s heard from other African descendants who visited the continent that going there was life changing.
When she’s not selling the paper, Cooley likes to read, watch movies and crochet. She also likes to write and has submitted a few poems to the forthcoming Real Change Zine project. She’s excited to see whose submissions make it into the final version of this first zine for Real Change.
Cooley likes selling the paper because she can make her own hours and go to work whenever she can. Having flexibility is key for Cooley, and she appreciates that having a job selling the paper is a dignified way to earn additional income to make ends meet. She had started selling the paper in front of the Elliott Bay bookstore. At that time, the store was only providing pick-up orders and her sales were slow. Once they opened up for customers to go in and out of the store, her sales improved.
After finding her stride, she reached out to the Vendor Program director to find her own post where she can build up her customer base, now that businesses are opening up and the weather is getting warmer and people are out more. She’s found much success at the Metropolitan Market on lower Queen Anne.
Ramirez says this is no surprise. “We’d only met once, yet she totally remembered me by name! No wonder she’s had such great success.” Having a connection with customers is what selling Real Change is all about, and Cooley and her customers are finding each other already.
Read more of the June 30 - July 6, 2021 issue.