At any other time of the year, a trip to Hecker Pass Plaza on First Street would likely result in a cup of YoghArt's frozen yogurt, a plate of Mama Mia's Italian cuisine or a maybe a handful of nuts and bolts from Ace Hardware.
This summer however, Hecker Pass Plaza is offering something new: free compliments.
On Thursdays and Fridays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. throughout the summer, shoppers will see pairs of teenagers stationed in the area touting “Free Compliments” signs. There's no gimmick or sales pitch behind the gesture, just a simple serving of uplifting words to passersby and employees.
“We're doing it just for grins and it is a nice way to bring a positive light to the center,” said Rick Dyer, leasing manager of Hecker Pass Plaza Property. “We want our patrons to know they are appreciated.”
The effort – coined by organizers as a "Positivity Campaign" – is spearheaded by Dyer and members of the South Valley Community Church youth group. Among them are Kendall Andrews, 15, and Cassidy Andrews, 13.
“People laugh but they seem to enjoy it,” Cassidy said. “A couple times people have tried paying us.”
Dyer, whose family owns and manages the plaza, said they were inspired by two Purdue University students - Brett Westcott and Cameron Brown - who captured the nation's attention with their uplifting and unconventional custom of standing on a popular university walkway and offering compliments to passersby.
According to Purdue, Brown and Westcott, colloquially known as “The Compliment Guys,” made national headlines in the summer of 2009 by sharing their story on “Good Morning America” and other news outlets.
To emulate Brown and Westcott, the plaza conscripted the SVCC youth group to meander the walkways of Hecker Pass Plaza and dole out compliments to customers.
The shopping center has opted for traditional marketing approaches in the past and wanted to break the mold of bland, typical advertising, which Dyer said can become monotonous or negative for customers.
So the plaza took a grassroots approach that provides a positive advertising experience for customers and also support the SVCC youth group. The free compliments promotion gives the teens a chance to be positive and help the community, Kendall said.
“I really like putting a smile on people's faces. It has made me look at the positive side in people,” she added.
The girls said they look for things that are unique to the individual and do their best to be sincere. Some of the most well-received compliments so far have been related to style - something Kendall says other girls seem to appreciate since personal style is something they put a lot of thought and effort into.
For some, the concept of free compliments with no strings attached takes a minute to sink in. Cassidy confessed that at first, people can be confused, think the gesture is a joke or haven't seen the “Free Compliments” sign.
Overall, however, most of the patrons express gratitude for the surprise morale boost.
Dyer praises the initiative as a win-win scenario for the plaza, its customers and the youth group, which will continue to offer free compliments until the event wraps up (an exact end date has not been scheduled).
In exchange for the youth group's time, the plaza will donate money to help send the teens to summer camp at Hume Lake.
“The (youth group) gets help, the patrons get a positive vibe that makes them feel good and welcome, and if the plaza gets some attention that is generated from something positive, we are okay with that too,” Dyer said.
SVCC Pastor of Student Ministries Mark Turner said he is grateful for the youth group's partnership with the plaza. Offering free compliments gives a boost to people's days while imparting to youth group members the value of a positive mentality and outlook.
“Our students are getting a lot out of it. They are identifying good within other people,” Turner said. “If you build a training ground for teens to say nice things to other people, everyone wins.”
Money raised by the youth group will go towards the $495 per-person camp fee cost. The SVCC youth group will also be volunteering at the Gilroy Garlic Festival the last weekend of July and later this summer will hold a gong show - a style of talent competition where judges halt the performance by striking a gong.