Jonas Stone had his work cut out for him the day after the Seahawks lost their season opener. Sales of Real Change were slow at the corner of First Avenue and Marion Street, but at least his well-established “smile-zone” strategy was working.
“Cheer up! It’s not raining yet!” … “Happy Monday!” … “Welcome to Seattle!”
The smiles came readily, and business picked up. “I don’t push the papers,” Jonas said. “They sell themselves.”
He has his regulars, including Jane Rebelowski of Bremerton, who’s been buying Real Change from Jonas for about a year. “He’s always happy, always pleasant,” Rebelowski said. “He’s very compassionate. I see him help street people and other vendors who might be struggling. He’s a mentor.”
Jonas’ time-tested philosophy is simple. “I just try to get people to interrupt their day if they’re feeling down and out,” he said. “I thought if I could just make them smile, it would break up the monotony of the day. It works!”
This November marks Jonas’ eighth year as a Real Change vendor, a period roughly coinciding with his sobriety.
He settled in Seattle in 1989 or 1990, and he likes it here — the people, the climate, the steady income he earns as a Real Change vendor. Five or six days a week, five or six hours a day, he’s on his feet at First and Marion.
“In some cities, people have an attitude or an agenda,” he said. “Here, people will talk to you. They’ll converse, and they’re friendly.”
Jonas, 57, was born in Chicago and spent his early years traveling. He served in the U.S. military and the National Guard, and was a sound technician for a rock ’n’ roll band that traveled the college circuit.
Jonas married and divorced twice, has five children and four grandchildren. “I really started drinking when my first son died at birth,” he said. That was in the ’80s. “I had a one-track mind, drinking two fifths of rum a day.”
He ended up in Seattle and wound up homeless for about 15 years, often sleeping under a tree not too far from his corner. One day, he was sitting on the ground and a woman asked him if he wanted help. Something told him to say yes, and he wound up in a rehabilitation center.
“I got sick and tired of being sick and tired, as they say,” Jonas said. “She had seen me a few times and could see my condition was deteriorating.”
He relapsed after a month, got into trouble and was given the choice of rehab or jail. He chose rehab, and this time it stuck. That was in 2007. “I don’t want to drink,” he said, “and I don’t need to.”
Jonas found housing in SeaTac, and selling Real Change supplements his Social Security checks. He is content. Bringing joy to others helps him deal with depression, he said.
The pedestrians who pass through his “smile zone” are the beneficiaries, as are the passengers on the Ride the Ducks tours that pass by. They wave to the guy at the corner who’s flashing the peace sign and tooting his duck-call kazoo at them.
“I know what it’s like being down and out,” Jonas said. “If you don’t stay positive, all you get is negativity.”