“There’s the Love Guy.”
Yelm resident Valentin Fyrst hears that a lot around town. It’s his favorite greeting.
“It really fills me with joy and brings a smile to my face when I hear that,” Fryst said last week in a phone interview with the Nisqually Valley News. “I can see the joy and positivity, and it means the effort was well received and there was a positive response from the community.”
So what exactly is the “Love Guy” pushing that everyone seems to dig so much?
It’s called the Spread the Community #love campaign, Fyrst’s Facebook-based crusade to bolster small businesses in Yelm and its sister communities hard hit by COVID-19 and economic trauma.
Fyrst’s campaign is really quite simple, though a bit time consuming. To date, he has snapped more than 200 iPhone photographs of himself in front of about 160 businesses in Yelm, Rainier, Tenino, McKenna and Roy while wearing a T-shirt with the word “love.” in large letters on the front. The shirts — which Fyrst wears in black, red, and blue — are a collaboration between youth motivational speaker David Love and online apparel marketer Kindness Nation.
Fyrst posts the Love-shirt photographs on his Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/vfyrst and writes a “shout-out” about the businesses usually after speaking with the owners and discovering what makes the shops special.
His posts are also popping up on a Facebook group called “Reaching Out: Yelm and surrounding areas,” which can be accessed through https://www.facebook.com/groups/Reachingoutyelmandbeyond.
Fyrst, 49, first moved to Yelm in 1997, left for 15 years to live primarily overseas (with a 1 ½-year stop in Silicon Valley), and then returned here in 2016.
He was born in Dusseldorf, Germany, but is originally from Norway where his parents were born and raised, and subsequently spent 22 years of his life in Geneva, Switzerland, before moving to Yelm. His mother and two brothers live in Yelm, and he has a sister in Puyallup. He and wife Nadine have been married for 19 years.
Fyrst’s European background coupled with his United States exposure have made him into a linguistic Renaissance man of sorts.
Fyrst considers Norwegian his first language, French his second, and English his third — which is quite impressive given his total fluency in America’s native tongue.
Impressive, too, is the Love Guy’s education: He lived in Geneva from elementary school through his junior year in university and then completed his senior year at Pacific Lutheran University. At PLU, he earned a bachelor’s of science degree in psychology and a bachelor’s of arts degree in French and along the way also managed to obtain an MBA from Saint Martin’s University.
Now before we return to his Spread the Community #love campaign, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention his actual occupation. With about 20 years of international business experience in energy, electricity and high-tech industries behind him, Fyrst has owned and operated Point of V since 2017, calling himself a “strategic storyteller.”
His digital marketing and business consulting agency geared toward small businesses in Yelm, Rainier and Tenino aims to help clients improve the way they tell their stories “and put them on the map in ways they haven’t thought about doing before so they can expand their footprint and customer base.”
But like many of the small businesses he’s attempting to recognize with his Spread the Community #love campaign, COVID-19 has not left Fyrst totally unscathed. He lost some customers at the beginning of the pandemic as they altered their budgets to fit the new reality but has hung onto enough of his base to keep Point of V functioning.
“I’ve finally come to a place this month that I’m not worried my business will close, but it’s been a challenging time,” he admitted. “From a business standpoint, my business is still operating, but there has been a change in the customer lineup.”
Joycelyn Zambuto, owner of Main Street Cookie Company in Rainier, is among Fyrst’s Point of V clients and also values his Spread the Community #love campaign.
“I think he has lent terrific moral support to everyone in general and especially for small businesses,” Zambuto said last week. “He has provided links between businesses and honed in on the community in a really difficult time for everyone.”
Fyrst’s Spread the Community #love campaign began in mid-April as the pandemic began severely impacting Washington. Fyrst — who says he is community minded and believes the community can come together for the greater good of everyone — was trying to figure out how he could support that concept and bolster the spirits of the local business owners.
And then one day online he watched a video of a man wearing the Love T-shirt and bam, his Community #love campaign suddenly became clear.
After ordering the shirts, he made his first appearance on April 18 at the Shiplap Shop & Coffee House in Yelm.
“The shop reminded me,” he said, “of coffee shops around the corners in the European context.”
And from that moment on he’s been posting his photographs and shout-outs just about every day. He figures he spends about five hours a week on the project and usually photographs himself next to a sign or logo that identifies particular businesses.
“I really wanted to spread the love to local business owners by highlighting their existence and specialties to the wider community during a time that was particularly difficult for small-business owners,” he said.
Bahman Robinson, co-owner of Ma & Pa’s Family Diner in Yelm, is thrilled with Fyrst’s Spread the Community #love campaign. Some of Fyrst’s latest Facebook mini-shout-outs, in fact, have featured the intimate diner’s food specials.
“I think his campaign is awesome,” Robinson said, “and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if his posts have gotten us some business. It’s really great to see a younger guy step up for the community and go out of his way to help small businesses and do it from the goodness of his heart.”
Fyrst figures his campaign may still have more than 100 businesses to highlight in Yelm and surrounding towns before he embarks on his next altruistic adventure. The campaign, he believes, will last at least through 2020 and probably into the new year.
“There are a lot of hidden gems in the area, and I have some lined up because I’m getting requests from businesses to be included in the campaign,” he said. “So I’m basically working my way through the businesses and doing as much as I can.”
Yelm’s Prairie Hotel has been one of Fyrst’s most recent shout-outs. For Prairie General Manager Angie Evans, 53, the Community #love campaign has been a fascinating endeavor.
“I love what he is doing for all of the local businesses, some of them I didn’t even know existed until he started the campaign,” Evans said. “It is an impressive campaign, and I have followed it from the beginning and have been amazed at the traction it has received. And I know that his post about the hotel increased our visibility.”
Fyrst is hoping that his Community #love campaign will motivate others in the community to spread the love as well.
“The goal I had is to inspire people to pay it forward and to do that kindness and that loving gesture and open the door to generate greater positivity in the community,” he said. ”You have to focus on love and kindness to help the community weather the hard times and heal. And I know that most people are doing absolutely what they can.”
Fyrst, who won the 2020 Best Of Nisqually awards for Volunteer and Young Professional, may seem like he spends every spare minute working, but he has a few other passions he pursues when time allows.
He has, for instance, been playing piano since age 6 — and even composes music, to boot — and enjoys cooking, snow skiing, cycling, nature exploring and traveling.
“I love a good adventure,” he concluded.