How did you end up in Nashville?
I was in the restaurant business for most of my life. I worked for Pizza Hut for 19 years so that’s how I ended up in Tennessee. I lost my job and my housing because of bad decisions, but then one of my friends told me about The Contributor. Choosing to sell The Contributor was a great decision. I have been selling it for seven years now.
How did you decide where to sell The Contributor?
My first day of buying papers, I was supposed to go meet my friend who also sells and he was going to teach me, but then I got on the wrong bus and ended up on Vanderbilt’s campus. I saw a bunch of people walking toward the hospital, so I figured that would be a good spot to sell the paper and I’ve pretty much been there ever since.
Have you been able to find housing?
Yes, the first time was in Franklin. I worked with Centerstone, and they found me an apartment there after five months on the waiting list. I started selling the paper there in Franklin, but then I got complaints that I was no longer selling at Vanderbilt so I started taking a bus there on Fridays. It was great, but that housing didn’t last very long.
A different corporation out of California bought the apartment complex that I was living in, and they didn’t want to continue giving me the discount rate. I was paying $180 a month and they wanted me to pay $900. There was no way I could afford that, so I had to leave and start the whole process over again.
What did you do when you were forced to leave?
I worked with Centerstone again and they put in applications anywhere they could, but I was still on the waitlist for nine months. I had to stay in the mission during that time, which is a very bad experience. The conditions are terrible, especially in the bathrooms. If it had taken much longer I would have started staying outside. Conditions are better outside as long as it’s not too cold.
But you’re in housing now?
Yes, for three months now. My customers bought all of the furniture for it. There were six of them who surprised me. They came with three entire trucks of furniture. I did not expect them to bring that much stuff. When they showed up, they saw I had been sleeping on a deflated air mattress, so those kind people raised money to buy me a bed. Even after all that they had already given me. They all work in the same office and took donations and then had a bed delivered a few weeks later.
Wow. So you have some pretty loyal customers?
Yes, they are amazing. I love them. I think they are great. I even like people who just stop and talk to me, but don’t buy the paper. I’m really close to the Asian Christian Community building and they are very nice people. Student sales are going up every year, and they stop and talk to me too.
What’s your paper-selling strategy?
Now I live near the fairgrounds, but I still take a bus to my spot in front of the VA hospital on 24th and Highland. It takes me an hour every day there and back, but I get there for my customers. I sell Monday through Friday because there isn’t much business on the weekends. I am better off working in the evening hours because people aren’t in as much of a rush. In the morning they’re in a hurry to get to work on time. I probably need to use signs more often to advertise. I’ll have a cardboard sign that says I’m the vendor spotlight, so hopefully people will buy the paper and read it. On my birthday, Jan. 31, I’ll blow up balloons and have a sign that says it’s my birthday.
What do you like to do when you’re not selling papers?
I’ve been staying in and reading a lot on the weekends. I just finished a Vickie Bliss novel. I read a lot of historical mysteries, they’re my favorite.
What are your plans for the future?
Right now I’m doing 60 papers a week. I can make rent in one day of paper sales even including electricity. I’d like to be able to go to Florida again some day in the winter like I used to. I’m from West Virginia and sometimes I think about going back, but there’s no work there. For now, I’m just going to keep selling The Contributor and work towards getting us to 10 million copies sold.
Mar 16 2017