Over the summer, more than 100 loyal customers from all across Long Island and beyond, lined up outside the Center Lane Stationary store in Levittown to surprise one of their favorite local business owners, Avi Ghandi.
Operating the Center Lane stationary store for the past ten years, Avi has left a memorable impression on many of the residents of the Levittown community and beyond, with his smiling demeanor and never-ending supply of stories.
So, to show Avi just how much he means to the Levittown community, former Long Islanders Celeste-Hamilton Dennis and her husband Craig orchestrated a “cash” mob to try and help clear out his inventory and help send Avi out in style before Center Lane Stationary shutters its doors.
“He is well loved in the community because he treats everyone as more than a customer,” Celeste said, back in June.
Although Celeste and Craig no longer live on Long Island, they flew in from Portland, Ore. to surprise their old friend Avi by rounding up some of his usual clientele. Using social media and placing an item in the Levittown Tribune’s community calendar, Craig and Celeste made sure to keep Avi unaware of their plans.
On June 21, as dozens of residents amassed at the playground across the street, Celeste told Avi that her friend Liz Morrison would be filming the Center Lane Stationary store for a book she was working on. Little did Avi know, what they were really shooting was a documentary about the “cash” mob, his store and the people of Levittown who have supported him through the years.
As the day went on, more and more people came swarming into his shop, and Avi became overwhelmed. After about an hour of conversation with his favorite customers, Craig and Celeste finally brought him outside for the big reveal.
When asked if he ever suspected what was going on, he replied, “not in the slightest.”
“Pray for me that I get a brand new lease, so I can continue to serve all you lovely people,” Avi said, tears still dribbling down his face. “This is a beautiful, beautiful town. This is such a blessing that you all help me so very much. Thank you.”
Check Out The Full-Length Documentary Film From The “Cash Mob For Avi”
Now, almost four months since giving Avi the surprise of his life, Celeste said she just showed Avi and his wife Bharati the final cut of the film, and it brought back all the emotion from that day.
“It’s like a small poem. It brought tears to my eyes,” Avi said. “I was unable to breathe.”
Hoping that the “cash” mob would give Avi both a new lease on life and a new lease on his Center Lane storefront, Celeste said that Avi is still struggling to keep his place in Levittown. “This week, he’ll be sending a letter to his landlord to see if he can cut a deal on cheaper rent,” Celeste said via a recent web update. “If not, he’ll likely be out by December’s end.”
While she said Avi is not hopeful the plea will work, he’s welcome to changing his stressful work week to spending more time with his wife.
“That was a miracle in my life,” Avi said, still emotional about the surprising event. “I tell you, I never dreamed I’d be a situation like that. I can die happily now.”
Celeste said that Avi plans to now work at a lower-stress and better paying job for another five years and retire when Bharati does. One job prospect that Avi is mulling is working as a Hindu translator and parent liaison at a nearby school in Hicksville.
Click here to read the original story from the June 25-July 1, 2014 edition of The Levittown Tribune.