April 30, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 18

Vendor of the Week

Vendor Profile - Jim O’Donnell

By Mike Wold / Contributing Writer

Jim O’Donnell sells Real Change at the Trader Joe’s in Ballard when his brother John isn’t there.

Photo by Jon Williams / Arts Editor

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Jim O’Donnell has fond memories of Montana, where he grew up. His good memories are of hunting and fishing in the Rockies. “Montana fishing, you can’t beat it. It’s as good as Alaska. You get trout — big trout, too.” He once tried fishing in Seattle, in Green Lake. “The fish aren’t very good. They’re too mushy.” As for hunting, he’s hunted deer and antelope and elk, though he never got an elk. But he still says you can’t beat Montana for elk.

Still, he left Montana as soon as he could. “The day I was 21. There’s no jobs to speak of. At that time it was just mines. All the copper mines are really deep. They’re not going to get me underground.”

His father-in-law gave him a chance for a different kind of job in Seattle. “He said I could get in the glass business and become a glazier. Residential and commercial both. I loved it.” Jim especially loved working high up on new highrises — the opposite of being underground. He did that for 25 years. He proudly wears a cap with the name of his union local.

Now Seattle’s his home, though his children live in Montana and Florida. He also has two grandchildren, both in college with 4.0 averages. “They must have taken after me, somehow.” He hasn’t seen them in a few years but is planning to go visit them this summer.

It was after he retired that Jim started selling Real Change. His younger brother, John, introduced him to the paper.  “I said, ‘I don’t want to sell no papers.’ And then he talked me into it. At first I was getting discouraged. You got to have patience.”

Jim learned. “I can stand there 45 minutes and not sell a paper, but that’s all right with me because I know they’re going to come around, because people want the papers.”

Now Jim sells over 300 papers a month — enough to get his own “turf.” But for now he sells at his brother John’s location at the Trader Joe’s in Ballard. “It’s his turf. He don’t give me the breaks people might think he does. I get the boot when it comes time for him to sell papers. He doesn’t show any favoritism. But I have established customers there.”

It’s all about the relationship with the customers. If someone’s not familiar with Real Change, he gives them a free copy. If somebody doesn’t want to pay $2, he’ll let them have it for a dollar. He makes a point of being visible; years ago, long before Real Change made vests for vendors, he made his own vest with fabric paint. He wears a bright blue cap so he stands out in the parking lot.

And Jim likes the paper himself. “The contents of this paper is something you don’t get on the news. That’s why people like it so much. And then your crossword puzzle. They’ve got advertisements, a crossword puzzle and great news. Everything’s in there.”

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