Disabled small business-owner defies odds

Disabled small business-owner defies odds
December 18
00:00 2014
Anthony Johnson poses near his snack kiosk at the Winston Lake Family YMCA.

Anthony Johnson poses near his snack kiosk at the Winston Lake Family YMCA.

Anthony Johnson is physically and developmentally disabled. Yet, each morning the Chester, S.C. native rises determined to prove that he can what any able-bodied person can.

Johnson runs his own business – Antonio’s Snack Bar. He begins his day at 8 a.m., selling fruit, drinks and snacks at the Winston Lake Family YMCA. By 11 a.m., he is on a bus making his way to other parts of East Winston to hawk his snacks at barbershops, beauty salons and other small businesses.

“People wait and look for me,” Johnson said of his most loyal customers. “It makes me feel like I’m helping the community and being a productive member of society instead of me being out here with my hand out.”

Johnson, 46, sustained a traumatic brain injury after being struck by a truck when he was 8 years old. He is unable to walk on his own and relies on a motorized wheelchair or crutches. The accident also affected Johnson’s speech, which is labored but decipherable. He has always strived to be self-sufficient. When he was younger, he landed a job at a neighborhood convenience store in his native Chester over the skepticism of some.

“I asked the manager of the store, ‘How can I get a job at the store?’ He looked at me and said, ‘You’re in a wheelchair. You can’t do nothing and you can’t put up nothing.’ The owner told him to let me sit there and be a security guard, and he would pay me out of his pocket.”

Johnson said he was effective at the job by paying close attention to customers, some of whom mistakenly took his disability as a license to steal.

“Some people would say, ‘He ain’t gonna tell on me, so I’m just going to take this and walk on out the store.’ But I would say ‘Hey, come here,’ and grab their hand … I would hold on until the man called the police,” he said.

His stint working at the store planted the seed for Antonio’s Snack Bar, but it was a dream that almost wasn’t to be. Johnson had a long battle with the bottle when he was a young adult.

“I was full of fear, and when I drank, it took away that fear so I kept doing it,” he said.
Johnson said his grandmother’s pleas for him to get help led him to rehab.

“I felt like I wanted to die before Alcoholics Anonymous. I questioned God and asked why he didn’t take me when he had me at 8 years old,” he said.

Johnson, who has been sober for 15 years, moved to Winston-Salem in 1989 to stay with an aunt after his grandmother took ill. He signed on for vocational rehabilitation offered by Monarch, an agency that provides services and support for those with mental health and substance abuse problems. After taking part in a job training program, Johnson received a grant to start his own business. Monarch helped him develop a business plan and obtain a peddler’s license. He opened his snack bar on Dec. 22, 2007, at the YMCA.

Eva Katsoudas, Johnson’s employment support specialist at Monarch, has worked with him for the past three years.



“Usually twice a month, I take him to Sam’s Club and we purchase the items he needs. I try to make sure he stays under budget and make sure that he is buying stuff he can easily sell and make a profit,” she said.
Katsoudas said that initially the agency tried to find Johnson a job in the community, but then his sales took off. She said she has not run into anyone as determined as Johnson.

“It was a process for him to get his business started, but it has become successful,” she said. “He’s determined to be self-sufficient as much as possible, and he loves to work. He has been through a lot in his life, but he’s still up and at it every morning. If he puts something to his mind, he’s going to do it.”

Johnson has big dreams. He wants to run a store of his own and help others like him.

“My dream is to one day leave here (the YMCA), get a bigger building and hire other disabled people. Each person can do something. They might need a little more help than other people, but I’m willing to give them a chance because someone in Winston-Salem gave me a chance to make a part of my dreams come true,” he said.

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Chanel Davis

Chanel Davis

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