St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Man strolls the mall, dispensing free dollars

A man hands them out at International Plaza to anyone who wants them. It's just what he wants to do, he says.

By SUSAN THURSTON, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 16, 2002

A man hands them out at International Plaza to anyone who wants them. It's just what he wants to do, he says.

TAMPA -- Kevin Shelton dropped big bucks at the mall Friday night, but he didn't buy a thing.

Instead, he gave it away, dollar-by-dollar, to anyone who wanted it.

"It's just to make people's day," he said over and over again to hundreds of incredulous people at International Plaza.

Shelton, 32, spent several hours handing out bills to shoppers who didn't know what to think.

"I don't understand. He's giving it out just 'cause?" said Amy Hunter, 19, of Temple Terrace.

"Is he famous?" asked Michael Brewster, 17, of Tampa.

Shelton, who lives in Odessa, said he began doling out cash last year as a way to brighten people's day and spark generosity. He swears it's not a gimmick.

"It's what I choose to do," he said. "I think it's making an impact."

Shelton says he earned his money buying and selling real estate in the Tampa Bay area. He doesn't keep track of what he gives away, but guesses it's in the tens of thousands. Friday put him back about $7,000.

Reactions ranged from delight to disgust. One woman gave him a hug. Another gave him a tongue lashing for not donating it to the poor.

Besides, what can you buy for a buck at Tampa's glitziest mall? A tip for the valet?

"These people don't need the money," said 27-year-old Christina Natoli of Westchase, who passed on the dollar.

Shelton wasn't deterred. He said one person can't possibly pay for all of the needs in the world. He would rather give a little to a lot of people in the hope they will do the same.

"I feel it's the right thing to do," he said.

As he walked the mall wearing wads of ones strapped to his body, two guards, including off-duty Hillsborough sheriff's Detective Craig Darlak, watched and fielded questions.

"It's amazing to see people's reactions," said Darlak, who has escorted Shelton at other places, including the Citrus Park Town Center. "Some people think he's crazy."

Others loved the idea.

"It made me feel really great," said Nick Pagano, 53, of Philadelphia. "He's making everyone smile and he's not zeroing in on all the good-looking honeys."

Most shoppers happily took the dollar and walked away giggling. Many vowed to give it away. Others said they would use it to buy a lottery ticket. A gaggle of young girls got their bill autographed and said they would keep it forever.

"It's a real buck," said Ed Cloutier, 53, of Tampa. "I can't remember the last time when someone gave me something for free."

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.