The locals love him.
Avi Gandhi, owner of Center Lane Stationary in Levittown, New York, is revered by his customers as a kind, passionate small businessman.
“My favorite thing about Avi is the way he cares about Levittown," one customer said.
"He's just really kind and giving," echoed another. "I love him. We all do."
However, despite a loyal base of customers, Avi recently became engulfed in financial turmoil. His wife recently survived a battle with cancer, leaving the couple with a pile of medical bills.
“I just work here 12 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s just the reality of all the store owners like me. We are all a one man show," Avi said. "Last few years — I have no moment with Bharati. Even I will say, I was not with her — during those bad days.”
[sharequote align="center"]“I just work here 12 hours a day, seven days a week."[/sharequote]
Even while his wife Bharati was in the hospital, Avi remained at the store to keep them financially stable.
“I was not with her," he said. "I feel very guilty.”
Yet, despite his best efforts, financial problems may still prove too much for Avi — he may be forced to close his beloved shop.
His loyal customers have decided to do something.
"We had just spent a couple of hours in there, I was looking at things. And I just said it," customer Craig Dennis said. "Wouldn’t it be cool if we got all these people that come here to come and clear the shelves?”
"He deserves to know how loved he is," he continued. "I think he knows a little bit, but I don’t think he knows how loved he is.”
Dennis and his wife, Celeste, decided to throw Avi a "cash mob" — a day where all the loyal customers would gather and clear out Avi's shelves.
On the day of the event, Craig said about 100 people turned out.
“This is a surprise. Don’t say anything. It’s all a surprise," he told participants before they started streaming into the store.
The flood of customers took Avi by surprise.
“What is going on today? What have you done?" he said, in absolute shock. "Something is not right! No, no — I want everybody to take everything free today!"
“This is not real, this is not real," he continued. "I don’t know what I’m doing. I can’t do anything right today."
“That’s okay, you tell me and I’ll do it," his wife replied.
At the end of the day, Avi addressed all of his customers.
"I love you all. Please help pray for me that I can get a new lease and I can sell you to my last moment," he told them. "That’s what I want. Believe me."
"I want to go home and just close my eyes and try to memorize what happened today," he said. "I can never imagine myself in a situation like this. This was beyond. This was beyond."
[sharequote align="center"]"I can never imagine myself in a situation like this. This was beyond. This was beyond."[/sharequote]
Since the cash mob, organizers have taken their efforts online. At the time of publication, they have raised more than $600 to help him alleviate his financial woes.
Follow Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) on Twitter