4

The Owner of Grand Avenue Thrift Shop The Giving Vine Is Feeling Grateful

Mr. Blackwell, dressed for success.EXPAND
Mr. Blackwell, dressed for success.
Edward Blackwell
^
Keep New Times Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Phoenix and help keep the future of New Times free.

Pride, Edward Blackwell said, is overrated.

He wasn’t too proud to admit, for instance, that in February he lost the lease on his apartment and had to move into The Giving Vine, his Grand Avenue thrift shop, and sleep on a fold-out mattress on the floor. And he was humbled by the generosity of customers old and new who came by The Giving Vine after hearing, last month, that his commercial landlord was about to evict him.

“I was pretty behind on my rent,” Blackwell said last week, “and my landlord is a businessman, too. I get it. He needed to be paid.”

The store, which Blackwell had run since July of last year, had fallen on hard times with the COVID pandemic. People didn’t visit a thrift store when they were afraid to leave the house, Blackwell said. “It’s not like I sell anything essential. Furniture, jewelry, shoes, sometimes things people donate. We had someone donate dried fruit, but we had to give it away. We’re not licensed to sell food.”

Blackwell, an African-American Puerto Rican Jamaican, described himself as a “local guy” who has lived in Phoenix for an awfully long time, though he wouldn’t say exactly how long. (“I’m hesitant to give away my age.”)

After a local news station aired a piece on his dilemma, shoppers descended on The Giving Vine to buy up secondhand things. Later, nearly 200 people donated to a GoFundMe account set up by a concerned customer. Blackwell wrote a personal thank-you note to each person who donated.

One man who came to the store was bald from chemotherapy. He told Blackwell he was dying.

“I put my hand on his shoulder and I prayed for him,” Blackwell said. “He gave me $500 in cash. That was the story that touched me the most.”

Another visitor told Blackwell, “I am giving you this donation because I’m a landlord and you didn’t bad-mouth your landlord. I like your good attitude.”

People were generous. They bought $10 worth of stuff, paid with a $50, and told Blackwell to keep the change. One couple came into his store and handed him $300. He referred to these people as his “guardian angels,” individuals with mortal names — Francis Robinson, Chloe Jones — who were sent, he believed, from heaven.

The money they gave wasn’t his; it belonged to the community. “I am just the steward of these funds,” he said. “If I didn’t see it that way, my mother would come down from heaven and smack me upside the head.”

Blackwell’s mother continues to inspire him, 10 years after her death. When she was still alive, he admitted, he’d been a selfish person looking out for himself. After she died, he resolved to be selfless, as she had been. “I can never complain, ever again, about anything. I can be pissed off, but not hourly like I used to be. Total strangers giving me money took that attitude away from me.”

All this benevolence inspired Blackwell to create what he called “an eviction prevention raffle.”

“We have a string of handmade Zuni pearls, and you can buy a dollar raffle ticket to win them,” he explained. “The proceeds go to someone who might be about to get evicted from their apartment.”

When not selling shoes and paying the rent of strangers, Blackwell delivers food boxes to the homeless. Sometimes charity work is the only part of his life that feels normal these days. Lately, people have been stopping him on the street to wish him well and say they’d seen him on TV. And an independent filmmaker who’s making a documentary about businesspeople dealing with the pandemic has been following Blackwell around with a camera. “I’m like, wow, I am getting recognized out in public, someone wants me in their movie. What’s next?”

For now, he’s moving to bigger digs in January. “We outgrew this space. The new address is a secret,” Blackwell said. “It’s part of our mystique.”

Blackwell insisted, “I am absolutely clear on one thing: I have got to make good on all this support I’ve received. Everyone expects The Giving Vine to be successful now that they’ve stepped up and given us a bump.”

Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.

 

Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Phoenix.

 

Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Phoenix.