Eric Whitlock was thrilled when he heard that he had been named one of the 2022 Vendors of the Year.
“It’s just the best thing that’s happened to me in a long, long time,” he said.
Whitlock has been selling papers with Real Change for the past eight years in various locations, including on Broadway in Capitol Hill and in Wedgewood near the post office. Today, he sells regularly outside the Red Apple in Madison Park.
During his time at Real Change, Whitlock said he has had both great highlights and challenges. “My very first day selling at Real Change, I got a hundred dollar bill,” he said.
He has developed a loyal customer base and sense of community.
“Most of the people, I know them almost by heart,” Whitlock said. “I get to see them all the time.”
“When I first started going to the Red Apple, it was just on and off ... but after a while, we got kind of a community-type thing going,” he said.
Whitlock is dedicated to his customers. On his selling days, he gets up at 5:15 a.m., puts on his gear and heads out from his assisted living apartment in the Central District. However, the COVID-19 pandemic brought everything to a halt.
“It was really hard at the beginning, and I didn’t know: Were we gonna live? Were we gonna die with all this stuff going on?” Whitlock said.
“We had the COVID thing going on, and people were missing work for all that time, and it was kind of hard to get through that,” he said. “But the people were always there; they would help.”
Slowly, Whitlock said, things started getting better. Soon, he was able to resume selling papers as Real Change reopened, and the reception from readers was positive.
“When we started selling the papers again at the Red Apple ... [customers] would give me like a tuna fish sandwich, or a burger ... orange juice or something like that,” he said. “So, they took care of me pretty well.”
Whitlock was born in Seattle but moved around a lot as a kid, spending some time in Modesto, California. When he was in first grade, his dad died. Despite his turbulent childhood, Whitlock said that his mom was a strong person who supported him and his family.
Whitlock has seen a lot of things in his life. Right after he turned 18, he joined the Navy and lived in the Philippines for 18 months. He traveled the world, serving on multiple ships, including the USS Thomaston.
After he returned to Seattle, Whitlock enrolled in the Divers Institute of Technology. He later worked in the oil fields of the Gulf of Mexico.
But, unfortunately, life has often been hard for Whitlock.
“Eight years ago, I had a stroke,” he said. “At that time, they didn’t even think I was gonna live. [The doctors] just said that ‘he’s not going to make it.’ But I kept working on it.”
Slowly but surely, and with a lot of effort, Whitlock started to recover.
“Sometimes, it would be hard to just try to hold your arm down because of the stroke, and it would be pretty miserable,” he said. “But working at things one at a time, you get things done. And people will help you out a little bit.”
Whitlock said that being a stroke survivor made him realize that even though things do get better all the time, it comes in stages and often very slowly.
Whitlock is quite humble about winning Vendor of the Year. “I don’t sell a lot of papers,” he said.
“Everybody has the opportunity to lead, to do something, to manage your life,” Whitlock said. “But having Vendor of the Year is a great opportunity.”
Outside of selling papers, Whitlock said that he enjoys spending his time relaxing. He loves Seattle, saying that “it’s one of the best cities I’ve ever been in.”
“If you pay attention to what you’re doing and you like the people that you work with, then it’s a really nice spot. And I can’t argue with that,” he said.
Read more of the Sept. 14-20, 2022 issue.