Arlie Smith's is the first face many customers see when they enter Costco in Danville and his voice the last many will hear as they leave what is one of the most highly visited stores in the San Ramon Valley.
He said he always tries to make a connection with the patrons and put a smile on their faces. Tuesday afternoon, a small group of them returned the favor in an unexpected way.
Local community members -- some who knew Smith and some who'd never met him -- contributed almost $2,500 for a Southern California beach vacation for Smith and wife Shari just months after 45-year-old Smith, who was already battling multiple sclerosis, was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
"It could be a dream right now," the San Ramon man said after being presented with the surprise gift. "It's amazing; why me? I'm so lucky to be loved so much."
The effort began in the fall after Smith, a staple at the Danville Costco since 1993, told longtime store shopper Bridgette Loughnane about his cancer diagnosis.
"I just felt like there was something I wanted to do," said Loughnane, a Danville mother of four who spearheaded the Facebook fundraising campaign for the Smiths' trip. "I didn't know Arlie outside of seeing him at Costco, but now I do. He's a great man."
Loughnane, joined by about two dozen of the contributors and Shari Smith (who was in on the surprise), presented the gift to an unsuspecting Smith as he manned his post at the Costco entrance Tuesday afternoon.
"We're all here because we love you," Loughnane told Smith. "So, thank you for everything you do."
The package included a four-night summertime stay at the Surf & Sand Resort at Laguna Beach, spending money, a picture frame, seashells, sunscreen and a heartfelt note from the group.
"If she wasn't holding me up, I'd probably fall over," a stunned and tearful Smith said while hugging his wife.
"They're priceless. They're irreplaceable," Smith said of the well-wishers. "I'm richer than Bill Gates and the guy from Facebook and the guys from "Shark Tank" -- put them all together. I have a priceless, wonderful life. You can't put a price tag on all these people, on all of this."
Smith has made a lifetime of personal connections while working in membership services at the store on Fostoria Way, including perhaps his most important: the impression he made on his future wife.
The couple met through Shari's Costco trips in January 2002. "I picked him up wholesale," she joked.
They're set to celebrate their 12th wedding anniversary next month.
Their lives took an unexpected turn about five years ago when Smith first began exhibiting symptoms of what would later be diagnosed as multiple sclerosis -- a disease that also affected his mother.
Another medical bombshell fell last year, when Smith was diagnosed with renal cancer that metastasized to his bones. The initial prognosis from doctors was less than three years to live.
Smith said that throughout his health battles, the smiling Costco customers, young and old, have motivated him deeply.
"They're the reason I stand up tall at work every day," he said.
"What you have to do is find something you love, and keep doing that because that'll keep you going on," Smith added. "Find something you love to do, if you have MS. MS is a taker. It'll take everything you give it, and it'll never give it back to you."
Smith continues to work at the Danville store, with normal duties that include checking membership IDs and greeting customers entering the store and eying receipts of those exiting, trying always to talk with a smile on his face -- and usually drawing one on their receipt.
He said hopes to use the new-found community support to help raise funds for Children's Hospital Oakland as part of Costco's annual donation campaign later this spring.
"I have had 13 years of happiness with her," Smith said, holding wife Shari. "That's more than some children have had in their whole lives."