POWFest, here we come!

Just when you thought it was over, the love for Avi continues.

This Sunday, Cash Mob for Avi will be screening at the Portland Oregon Women’s Film Festival (POWFest). It’s an incredible honor for our lady directors Liz and Kat, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to introduce Avi to the Portland audience.

The historic Hollywood Theatre, where it all goes down. Me, Craig, and Liz will be in attendance.

The historic Hollywood Theatre, where it all goes down. Me, Craig, and Liz will be in attendance.

We’ll be screening as part of the Feel Good Docs and are sandwiched between a pie lady, rodeo dog, stick insects, and a luchadora. If you’re in town, drop by. We’d love to say hi.

When: Sunday, March 15 at noon
Where: Hollywood Theatre – 4122 NE Sandy Blvd.
Tickets: $8

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The fate of Center Lane Stationery

Avi’s going to have a new life. And we couldn’t be happier for him.

At the end of this month, he’ll be shutting down Center Lane Stationery. Wait a minute, you might be thinking. What about the cash mob? The Fundly campaign? The hope we’ve been writing about?

I wish I could say this story had a Hollywood ending. That the cash mob swayed his landlord to give him a better lease and saved his store. (The money from the Fundly campaign will help him transition out, however, as he’ll be taking a big loss when he closes.)

We always knew there was a chance it would come to this, and we were shocked and sad as you at first. Until we realized that maybe after all, this story does have a good ending.

If you thought the Levittown community was already awesome, get this: Avi’s customers are trying to help him find new work. The love and support continue, and I couldn’t be any prouder of my hometown.

I’ll let Avi speak for himself in this new video. Watch it through to the end. The last line out of Avi’s mouth cuts to the core and will make you smile all over again. I promise.

Stay tuned for more as we follow Avi through the last days of Center Lane.

*Update*

Since writing this post, Avi’s closing date has moved up to December 24. He’s looking to donate all the merchandise in the store. If you have a lead, please email me: cellyham@gmail.com.

We’ve Raised Over $16,000 on Fundly for Avi So Far!

I have a confession to make. When Liz suggested that we create a Fundly page with an initial goal of $5,000 to help support Center Lane Stationery, I thought she was crazy.

Her idea was this: use the film to inspire donations to help Avi restock inventory, hire someone a couple days a week to give Avi a break, or if he was forced to close, start a mini-retirement fund.

I mean, I knew Avi was special in so many ways but would people really want to reach into their pockets and donate money to someone they didn’t know? I was skeptical.

But she encouraged me to dream big, and four months after I created the campaign, I couldn’t be happier to be proven wrong. As of today, we’ve raised over $16,000 for Avi. That’s more than I ever thought possible.

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More than that, it’s been heartwarming to see how Avi’s story has resonated with so many people. They get him. They perceive his kindness, his sincere appreciation of the people he serves, and how tirelessly he works.

From India to Indianapolis, people have been showing their support from around the world. Here are some of my favorite donor comments:

people like this pull the earth along with them. – Isarapu Naveen

Thank you for sharing your story. My dad actually was taken away from us running his shop – this is for him. – Mamta CHhabra

I too own a small business and it is hard work! My customers mean to the world to me as well and I’m so glad yours are recognizing you! – Mike Goodridge

God Bless you Avi – You are what makes a town HOME !!! – Matthew Cameron

Avi, you are the very fabric that makes America a great place. Best wishes buddy – Anonymous

This has restored my faith in humanity. I can only hope to know love like this someday! Showing you all love from Houston, TX! – Rickey Williams

Saw the video and wanted to show my support. I believe that if you do good, good things happen to you. You touched my heart. – Marcelo Gittermann

I used to live in Levittown and have visited this store. It makes me happy to see that there are still good people .Levittown u rock. – Lynn Saives

I do not think that I have ever seen a more deserving man. All the best to you and your wife. – AJ Fundly

People like Avi are my heros, my inspiration. Working hard everyday and bringing light into others lives. Rock on Avi!! – Thor Hanks

Loved your story, Avi! Hope your wife continues to remain well. I’m a cancer survivor, too! – Diane Tavegia

The world needs more Avis. – Ryan And Anna Candelaria

I’ve been showing this to my mom, and it’s been blowing her mind that strangers are coming together to financially give a boost to another stranger. Over the Internet.

Fundly has proven to be a perfect platform for us. Aside from just an awesome user experience, what I love most is the flexibility, as it’s allowed us to continually dream bigger and raise our goal from $5,000 to $20,000.

Their team has been super supportive as well (thanks, Krystal Gandola!) and has pitched this story on our behalf to media outlets and promoted us on their own blog to help raise as much as we can for Avi.

I don’t know what the final total will be or how Avi plans on using the money (more to come from Avi himself!), but I continue to be amazed, humbled, and above all, grateful.

Spreading the Small Business Love

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Think of all the local merchandise you could be buying! (Photo credit: Zack DeLaune.)

Our not-so-secret goal of organizing the cash mob was that it would inspire others to do the same for a beloved store owner they knew. Because we all have an Avi in our lives, whether it’s the guy who knows your coffee order the second you walk in the door, or the saleswoman who always gives you an extra big smile when you’re checking out.

So we’re happy to see this idea taking shape in people’s minds. Sally Hanseth from Santa Barbara, California recently donated to our Fundly campaign and sent me a follow-up email. In it she writes:

We have a little shop in our neighborhood with a crotchety old Australian man who owns and runs it. It’s where everyone here goes for sandwiches. The way he loves all the kids (knows all their names) and locals runs deep, and although I’ve baked him appreciation brownies for the last 10 years, your cash mob is getting me thinking!

I love this! It got me thinking of all the small businesses around the world that are suffering, and the loyal customers who would  love nothing more than to help them out.

Would you host a cash mob? If so, how can we help?

What’s happening with Avi now?

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It’s been almost four months since we gave Avi the surprise of his life, and he’s still reeling from the shock of it all. When he and Bharati watched the final cut of the film last weekend, it brought back all the overwhelming emotion from the day.

“It’s like a small poem. It brought tears to my eyes,” Avi says. “I was unable to breathe.”

We were hoping the film and cash mob would give Avi both a new lease on life and literally a new lease. While we definitely succeeded with the former, the latter has proven to be a bit trickier. Despite his customers remaining loyal more so than ever – many will buy breakfast at the deli next store and then walk to Center Lane to buy the morning paper, for example – Avi is still struggling.

This week, he’ll be sending a letter to his landlord to see if he can cut a deal on cheaper rent. If not, he’ll likely be out by December’s end.

He’s not so hopeful the plea will work, but if he’s really honest with himself, he’s welcoming a new change and a chance to cut back on his 85-hour work week to spend more time with his wife.

“I want to live a new life. I want to live with Bharati. I really miss her. I used to come home, sit and wait for her outside, and we’d chat about our day,” he says. “I want to have those moments back.”

His plan is to work at a lower-stress and better paying job for another five years, and then retire when Bharati does. He’s been gradually telling customers about his potential plan, which has been difficult for both Avi to say and for them to hear.

“I go to the store, I talk about home. I come home, I talk about the store, ” he says. “The customers are my family. What is going to happen with them?”

But the Levittown community isn’t going anywhere. If they’re not trying to convince him that he’ll still be at Center Lane in the new year, they’re giving out their information to stay in touch and offering to help him find a new job. One prospect, to be a Hindu translator and liaison for parents at a nearby Hicksville school, has caught his attention so far.

Whatever may come in the next few months, you can be sure Avi will never forget Levittown – its people, places, and course, the cash mob.

“That doesn’t happen to people like me. That was a miracle in my life. I tell you, I never dreamed I’d be a situation like that,” he says. “I can die happily now.”

-Celeste

Love Letter to Levittown

You might know all about Levittown if you’re a history buff or are from the Tri-State area. But if you don’t, here’s a little something I wrote for Huffington Post that explores my long distance relationship with the town I grew up in.

Dear Levittown,

I’ll be the first to admit: Our love hasn’t always been a Billy Joel song.

In our early years together, I loved to spend my days swimming at your pools and hanging out at block parties and eating as much as I could at pancake fundraisers for high school sports teams. But my favorite thing? It was easy for me to find the bathrooms at all of my friend’s houses. I liked how they all looked and felt the same.

Then I got older and your sameness started to make me feel weird. I sabotaged us. I stole bras from your department stores. I toilet papered your manicured lawns. I smoked pot in the sump behind the village green. I made out with boys on baseball fields and ruined pitching mounds.

I got restless. I needed more than a drive-thru dairy mart called The Cow and a patch of grass behind the bowling alley called The Field to hang out at. So I left you.

While I was gone, I couldn’t get you out of my mind. I’d wake up in the middle of the night craving a chicken parmigiana hero from Portofino’s. I longed for your thick, tough accent. I’d give anything to sing karaoke at Faddy Malone’s.

I missed you. But I knew you weren’t healthy for me.

It’s true you’ve changed over the years, although people hear your name and still think you’re as plain as the potatoes that used to cover your fields. They stereotype you for being the first planned suburb.

I know you’re more than that. I know you secretly love that there’s now a Colombian restaurant where the oyster bar used to be, and that saris and turbans that can now be found among Jets hats and Islanders jerseys. I know you’re getting a kick out of all the new additions on your Capes and Ranches.

I will never return to your arms, but I just can’t seem to let you go. It’s because of you I cry whenever I hear a Journey song at a wedding. It’s because of you I can’t eat a bagel without feeling disappointed. It’s because of you I understand that the men and women who sweep dust and install phones and pick up garbage may appear gruff, but are as soft and sweet as the inside of a cannoli.

You were my first lesson in tough love. And after all these years fighting it, I can finally say I love you for just the way you are.

-Celeste