Jeff McLaughlin was operating a food cart at the International Square and Willie Crowder was delivering mail at the Navy Yard when opportunity knocked last year. The owner of a magazine outlet, looking for new managers, had seen McLaughlin at work and liked the way he handled himself with customers.
Tom Morse, president of Periodicals Inc., hired McLaughlin and three weeks later McLaughlin recommended Crowder for a job.
Now, both men are managers of the periodicals store at 3109 M St. NW in Georgetown, responsible for sorting, stacking and selling more than 3,000 different magazines and newspapers. Through the publications they sell, and the man they work for, their entrepreneurial spirit has been fired up and a Columbus Day morning's alarm clock rings like a cash register to them.
Morse says that even if he had tried to close the store for yesterday's holiday, McLaughlin and Crowder would have reopened it for business, as McLaughlin had done on New Year's Day.
"That turned out to be our biggest day ever," McLaughlin said.
"We were both used to working; it's been in my blood since I was 16," said Crowder, who is 23. "But I used to spend my money. Jeff used to give his check to his mother and she started a savings account. He was in the habit of saving, and he got me in the habit."
McLaughlin said he had recommended Crowder for the job because, "he was someone that I could trust."
They had known each other for years before they started working together. Both grew up in the Parklands housing project in Southeast Washington. McLaughlin graduated from Anacostia High School and Crowder from Ballou.
Neither wanted to live at home after graduation, but neither could earn the money needed to make a clean break. Crowder had been working part time as an audio technician for the rock group Rare Essence and was saving money for college.
Before he heard about McLaughlin's job offer, Crowder learned that Kimi Gray, president of the Kenilworth Courts Tenants Council, had raised enough money to cover his college tuition.
Meanwhile, McLaughlin's mother died, and Crowder eventually decided that he could not leave a friend in need.
"I felt he wouldn't have anybody to turn to," Crowder said. "With me, friendship comes first. So I took the job."
They became a team and set their sights on buying motorcycles to relieve the crisscross of daily bus and subway rides. But Morse had some advice for them.
"Instead of buying something that will decrease in value, get something that will increase," Morse recalled telling them. "There will be time for a cycle later. In this life, you need assets. Owning the place you live in will work for you all of your life."
McLaughlin and Crowder began reading magazines about home ownership and real estate, and two weeks ago they bought a two-story house on Hilltop Terrace SE.
"We sat down and set goals, everything we wanted," McLaughlin said. "We agreed to get a house first, then a truck for our new ice cream business which they plan to start next year , and the truck will help pay off the house."
"Then we'll get another house and rent it," Crowder added. "And keep turning the money over."
With stocks and bonds in their financial portfolio, they carry themselves like businessmen.
Morse, 43, had offered the two young men an opportunity to learn about his business and not just to make money.
"They are two classy guys. I could already see they knew how to make money," Morse said. "But I wanted to show them a few business principles that can make money work for you."
Morse repeatedly stressed hard work, to which the two responded with vigor. But they have become the embodiment of another principle that has proved equally important and profitable in their lives.
"We are friends," said McLaughlin.
"We will make it as a team," Crowder added.