Good Neighbor Spotlight: Art Smith of Bethesda

Art Smith has passed out Washington Post Express newspapers at the Grosvenor-Strathmore Metro station since late 2011. Marylanders who commute from areas like Grosvenor Park, Grosvenor Heights, and North Bethesda visit the station, which sees about 5,000 riders daily. Throughout his years serving the neighborhood, Smith has seen many riders come and go, whether they’re moving or retiring. He has also been a direct witness to development in the neighborhood, including the plans for Strathmore Square, which was recently approved by Montgomery County. The plans call for a new residential community on top of what is now a parking lot, directly across from where Smith spends his morning passing out newspapers.

Here, Smith shares his experience distributing papers, some background on what he does for the job and the one time he was “recognized” in a local Target. 

Image via Art Smith

How long have you been a Post Express distributor?

I’ve been there almost eight years. I haven’t always been at Grosvenor; I started at White Flint and switched to the Grosvenor Station in late 2011.

What do you like about the neighborhood you distribute in?

The people there are very friendly, particularly the Metro riders. White Flint of course had some friendly riders too, but Grosvenor is a lot busier than White Flint. 

How has the neighborhood changed since you’ve been distributing?

For the most part, some have moved away and I’ve seen some new faces. Others have retired. The ones who have retired, I’ll see them four or five months later and ask where they’ve been and they’ll fill me in.

What do you think about the big plans for Grosvenor-Strathmore in the next few years?

There was a lady I spoke with that filled me in on that—she had been going to some of the meetings in reference to that development. There are pluses and minuses but I will say, a common question I get from riders both exiting and entering are where can they get a cup of coffee? There’s really nowhere in the immediate vicinity. An apartment complex on Tuckerman Lane does offer free coffee but they don’t open until 8 or 9 a.m. These are people coming in from 6 to 8 a.m. It would be nice to bring that type of thing into the neighborhood.

You see so many people during an often annoying and tough spot in their day—their morning commute. How do you help to make a customer’s day just a little bit happier?

I offer a smile and a hello, and sometimes I say something to them like “You look like you don’t want to go to work today!” and that often gets a chuckle. Basically saying good morning and have a great day, even to people that don’t take the paper, can make a huge difference. 

Tell us a little about yourself. Are you a local?

I live in Aspen Hill, Maryland. Distributing papers is one of two jobs I do. The second one is driving around delivering lost luggage from a local airport.

Tell us more about your job. What are your hours and what does it entail?

I work from 6 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. We have kind of a split duty. There are people who deliver papers to fill up the boxes at each station. Any leftover papers we have at the end of our shift we put in those boxes.

Are you expected to be out in extreme weather? Grosvenor-Strathmore is an elevated station. Do distributors stay underground for other stations?

I usually do drive to work and only take Metro when we get paralyzed by snow. I am scheduled to work unless Metro decides to close the station. I do remember one day though when they let us go an hour early because there was a 30 below wind chill factor. Most distributors remain outside the station. We are required to be 15 feet from the station, but each station is laid out differently. I am lucky our station is elevated, but fully covered. I’m protected from the rain and sun when it gets really hot.

You’ve become such a staple in the neighborhood that on days you’re not there, it’s hard not to wonder if people think about where you might be. How do you feel about being a source of comfort for people in a sense?

It’s a good feeling. I remember going to a Target one time and overhearing someone whisper to their friend or sister “Hey, I think that’s the newspaper guy right there!” I think it is funny that people might wonder if something’s wrong if they don’t see me. They’ll say hi and welcome back. Little do they know, I haven’t taken any time off. I may have been in the restroom—I do have to go sometime!

What would draw you to owning a home in the neighborhood?

I would have to say proximity to shopping needs like Target and supermarkets as well as being close to a variety of expressways.

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