Blind World Magazine

Candy man in sync with street.

September 22, 2005.
The Cincinatti Post, Ohio.

Dan Thomas' spot is at the cornerstone of the old Enquirer building on Vine Street downtown, next door to the Cincinnati Tobacconist. His sits cross-legged on the sidewalk with his back to the numbers carved in the stone: 1926. He rocks back and forth, listening to the people pass by.

Seated in a similar fashion to his left is his wife and seeing-eye person, Joan. Her hair is wrapped in a kerchief. She's wearing a "Mr. Happy Record Shop" T-shirt. Her glasses are thick, and she wears a hearing aid. A steel medic alert medal identifies her as a diabetic.

If you speak to her, she responds with an innocent, trusting smile.

Between them is the candy they have for sale: a modest supply of Mike & Ikes, Swedish Fish, Caramel Creams, Menthos, Raisinets, M&Ms, Lifesavers and two varieties of Extra gum, blue and green. Some of these items are displayed in a plastic case that the lady from the tobacco shop gave them.

There's no pressure to buy. Dan and Joan put their wares out where you can see them. If you want something, great. Usually, if you're stopping, you're buying. Dan's marketing philosophy is simple:

"If they buy something, they do. If they don't, OK."

One of the Thomas' regular customers pauses, looks over the inventory, picks up a pack of Extra, puts a buck in Dan's plastic money bowl and tells him to keep the change. Dan grabs the buck, puts it in his pocket. He doesn't like to let money sit around.

The temperature is nudging 90. The people walking by look like shadows to Dan. The only way he knows which are men and which are women is by their footfalls. One thing he knows, though, and he knows it for sure - every woman that walks by is one hot number.

Dan got into the sidewalk candy business, oh, maybe 12 or 15 years ago. He was working at the Cincinnati Association for the Blind prior to that, which is where he met Joan. She explains that they have sighted people working at the association, too.

He'd worked, oh, maybe eight or nine years on the assembly line there, putting together packs of salt, pepper and plastic spoons for to-go bags at fast-food restaurants.

"Got so bored, I thought I'd go right out of my gourd," he says.

"One day, I told my friend, Clarence - he's dead now - 'If you don't see me Monday, it's because I'll be sitting on a corner somewhere selling something.'

"So I took my little paycheck, bought a couple packs of Juicy Fruit and Doublemint. We have our government checks, but this is our walking 'round money."

A woman with a guide dog passes by. The dog leads her along the edge of the curb. They're moving along at a good clip, clearly on their way to somewhere, maybe running late.

Dan's head pivots with her progress. "There's a lotta pretty girls out here," he says.

Dan says that he and Joan have been in this spot, oh, maybe two years. They've moved around some.

Once upon a time, back when he and Joanie were on Fourth Street between Walnut and Vine, he says the city came after him to get a vendor's license. Dan says he told the guy he didn't have the $400 annual fee. Likewise, he wasn't in a position to fork over the cash for a business license, however much that was. After a while, he says, the city stopped bugging him.

"We've had celebrities give us money," Joan says.

"Deion Sanders gave us 20 dollars, and Barbara Bush gave us money one time. We had one guy who wasn't a celebrity walk up and give us 250 dollars in cold cash.

"Boy, that was a good day. Some days, we go all day before we make a dollar."

A man rolls by in a motorized wheelchair. Dan can tell by the sound it makes; the combination of the motor's whrrrr and the rubber wheels on the sidewalk pavement. He taps his fingertips to his thumb, one after the other, over and over, faster and faster.

Today is a slow day so far. Dan bobs his head rhythmically.

"This isn't going to set the woods on fire, but it gives me something to do," he says.

"Gives us some walking 'round money."

Contact David Wecker at (513) 352-2791 or at

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