Panhandlers 1, Highwoods 0.
Last weekend, Highwoods Properties, owner of the Country Club Plaza, temporarily stopped handing out pamphlets discouraging shoppers from dropping their loose change to panhandlers who station themselves outside shops and restaurants.
Apparently the backlash engendered through social media and by recent media reports tarnished Highwoods as too Scrooge-like.
Lots of snarky accusations have been launched about tony shoppers bothered by riffraff. That’s a bit simplistic. Highwoods is right to point out that long term, donations to social service organizations that can help with addictions, job training and permanent housing might be a better option.
But what do you do? Step around the man on the street to drop a coin into the red kettle instead? No one enjoys being hounded by an overly aggressive beggar. But, for the most part, Plaza panhandlers are pretty tame. And a few have ingratiated themselves to Plaza shops.
One man positions himself like a personal security guard outside one store. They want him there but would prefer to go unnamed because ticking off Highwoods is not something the shop wants.
Positioned on the sidewalk, the man has plenty of time to keep an eye on merchandise in the windows. On numerous occasions, he’s tipped management to shoplifters. He doesn’t pester for donations but accepts what comes his way.
He keeps an umbrella nearby in rainy weather, escorting the clerks to their cars. He notes when female employees leave after dark and might appreciate an escort to their car for safety.
The staff believes he’s a military veteran and lives out of his van. He’s not present every day, just the busy weekends.
“He’s kind to us because we take the time to talk with him,” noted one worker. Ah, seeing the less fortunate as human first.
The man gives presents to his favorites among the sales staff. Gifts of snow globes and other trinkets arrive to mark all the major holidays. He showed up with a sheet cake with a turkey on it for Thanksgiving, noting that the staff had been working long hours.
A plaque with a poem inscribed arrived for a manager before her wedding. “Not sure how he gets the money for these things,” the manager said, pausing, then smiling.
She knows where the money comes from. Passers-by drop the man coins and bills. And if he chooses to regift some of the proceeds — well, look who is the generous one now.