Ordinarily the opening of a new snack bar in a government building is a routine happening. But recently at the District Building, Washington's City Hall, they turned an opening into a big deal.
As a hundred or more city employes crowded into a dingy hallway, Mayor Walter E. Washington greeted the snack bar operator, who made a brief and poignant speech. Then the mayor cut a ribbon, and the facility was open, marking the event with free coffee and salted nuts for all.
What made it all unusual was that the concessionaire, Edgar Steever, who had run the "blind stand" on the ground floor of the District Building since 1973, selling candy bars and cigarettes to city employes, had graduated to a much larger operation.
While still selling the candy and the cigarettes, Steever would now direct a staff of three preparing and selling the coffee, hot lunches and snacks that fuel the 500 occupants of the building.
For Ed - as everybody calls him at city hall - the opening of the snack bar was a personal triumph over adversity. His blindness and a severe hearing impairment were the ultimate result of a childhood operation on his ears, using radium that irreparably damaged the optic nerve.
In 1959, when his vision faded, Steever retired from his job as a machinist for the U.S. General Services Administration. For nearly 4 years he was unemployed. "I was at the point of real desperation," he said during an interview.
It was then - "the moment of salvation," Steever calls it - that he was chosen to run the small stand in the District Building, one of about 70 such facilities in government buildings in Washington reserved for blind vendors under terms of the Randolph-Sheppard Act, passed in the 1930s.
One of the sponsors of that act, Sen. Jennings Randolph (D-W. Va.) is still in Congress.
Since 1973, Steever has been a familiar figure, white cane in hand, taking the bus from his apartment near the National Zoo to the District Building. Fortunately, the two locations are linked by the Connecticut Avenue bus line.
The opportunity to take over the snack bar came along recently when the former concessionaire decided to get out of the business. Rumors spread that a new snack bar operator, as yet unchosen, would displace Ed's candy and cigarette stand.
Steever heard the rumors, and confided his worries to several city employees, one of whom, John Drof, made some telephone calls.
What Drof and Martin K. Schaller, the executive secretary of the D.C. government, found out was that Steever might be able to qualify as the new snack bar operator. And with the assistance of the Social Rehabilitation Administration of the D.C. Department of Human Resources and a non-profit corporation called District Enterprises for the Blind, that is what ultimately happened.
District Enterprises put up the capital needed to refurbish the snack bar for Steever's management. In return, Steever pays a "levy" - in effect, rent - to that organization, which also provides management assistance.
Steever, an accomplished typist, fills out daily reports and forwards them to District Enterprises, which follows through with the kind of paper work that only people with eyesight can do.
Business has been brisk, but Steever still does not know how much profit he will make.But he said the biggest profit is the joy he gets from what he is doing.
As he told the audience in the brief speech on opening day: "I think of you all as members of my family."