By Michael J. Billoni
Senior Contributing Writer
He is at again.
While most children spend the final month of summer outdoors swimming, playing games and sports with friends, or taking family vacations, 13-years-young Grayson Shelp is back selling popcorn outside Ace Hardware, 1889 Whitehaven Road, seven days a week beginning at 9:30 a.m., until just past Labor Day. He has been there every August since he was 7, selling popcorn as a fundraiser for his Cub Scout troop and, now, for Boy Scout Troop 510, where he holds the rank of first class.
This year, he has added something new to his attractive table of popcorn varieties: a large can with a patriotic eagle on the front and a sign above that reads: “Buy Popcorn & Help Me Go To World Jamboree In Poland.”
Grayson, an active Scout who loves weekend Scouting trips, attended his first National Boy Scouts of America Jamboree last month when 15,000 Scouts, Venturers, Explorers, staff and volunteers converged on the Summitt Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia for one week. Held every four years since its inception in 1937, the Jamboree has attracted more than 1 million Scouts.
During that Jamboree, Grayson and other Scouts he met began talking about the World Scout Jamboree, also held every four years since its inception 25 years ago in London. The 25th World Scout Jamboree was held in South Korea this summer, and it was attended by several tens of thousands of Scouts from around the world aged 14 to 17. Organized by the World Organization of Scout Movement (WOSM), the next world jamboree will be held in Poland during the summer of 2027.
Grayson, an extremely smart, well-organized, young, successful entrepreneur, who will be attending eighth grade at Grand Island’s Veronica E. Connor Middle School, has circled the 2027 world jamboree on his calendar. He estimates it will cost him at least $6,000 for this once-in-a-lifetime experience for a Boy Scout.
The last thing he would do is burden his parents, Edwin and Kimberly, with this financial obligation, so he has begun collecting donations this month while selling his popcorn.
In addition to volunteer fundraising for his Scout troop, Grayson is also a member of the Grand Island High School swim and chess teams. He is an avid gardener with his dad, and he operates his own “Healthy Eats” mobile vegetable market in his neighborhood, along with cutting grass to earn additional revenue.
“I would really like to attend this World Jamboree to meet people from around the world and learn more about Scouting as I work towards becoming an Eagle Scout, just like my dad,” Grayson said with confidence in between sales outside of Ace. “Any donation helps, and I would never pressure anyone into donating – just like I would never pressure them into buying popcorn. But the popcorn is very good, and we have so many different varieties. It’s great with the Bills season upon us, as a snack while watching the games.”
This incredibly successful salesman, always dressed sharply in his full Scout uniform, draws potential customers in hook, line and sinker as he explains, in great detail, the array of products – from cheese popcorn to buttered microwave popcorn to caramel popcorn to large Buffalo Bills logoed tins of kettle corn to plastic containers of cashews. Grayson always ends his pitch with the reason he is there on those hot or rainy August days: “Your purchase will help fund our Boy Scout Troop’s camping trips and items we need for the year.”
As I watched his pitch to prospective customers, one gentleman complimented him on his salesmanship, wished him luck, but said he had no cash, and would catch him the next time he was at Ace.
“I accept credits cards,” Grayson said, looking directly at the customer with total confidence he was going to close this deal. “I have the cube to use with my cell phone and we accept all credit cards.”
When Grayson was 7 years young and a Cub Scout, he told his grandmother he wanted to be the top popcorn salesperson in the troop. His grandmother then went to Ace Hardware and met the owners, the Villani family, and asked if Grayson could set up shop outside.
How could they say no?
Now, they look forward to having this sharply dressed, well-mannered Boy Scout greeting their customers throughout the month of August. He is there from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and until 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, until Wednesday, Sept. 6.
His opening Sunday generated more than $1,000 in sales.
Over the years, Grayson has become legendary in local and regional Scouting circles with his phenomenal sales that far surpass the second-place seller. In 2019, he sold $5,000 worth of popcorn, followed by $11,055 in the pandemic year of 2020, and $15,005 in 2021. In 2021, he was the second-highest salesperson among Scouts in the U.S. Last year, he registered $11,580 in sales. He has been at the top in this council for five straight years and the top among the northeastern U.S. Scouts the past two years. Since he began, Grayson has sold more than $60,000 worth of popcorn for the Scouts.
How have you become so successful selling popcorn for your Scout troops?
“Anything is possible with hard work,” Grayson humbly responded before beginning to greet another customer at Ace Hardware.
Boy Scout Grayson Shelp with his donation can in front of Ace Hardware, where he will be selling his popcorn all month (Photo courtesy of Shelp family)