Richard Eckerlin sits in his tiny commercial shop on the tiny commercial strip of Montreal West every day, selling the occasional laptop but mostly, helping people in a time of need.

“People come in every day with virus problems,” Eckerlin said to CBC Daybreak. “It’s now enough that I can depend on the community to stay on business.”

Except recently that wasn’t true at all — and Eckerlin had to depend on the community in a very different way.

“I guess I became late on my rent, actually five months late on my rent,” Eckerlin said. “My landlord, who, I believe is one of my biggest supporters, he had to do something.”

Eckerlin faced an ultimatum: pay nearly $5,000 in back rent, or leave.

A client, he said, made a suggestion: ask people in the community for help. So he reached out and called the few clients he felt he could also call friends.

“The first half dozen calls phone calls were a little tough,” Eckerlin said. “You don’t really know what to say to people. You don’t want to come across as incompetent. You also need a logical explanation for what happened.”

That, Eckerlin had. He explained that a combination of repair work on Westminster Avenue in the fall, as well as harsh weather in the winter, had kept clients away. He was not asking for a handout, either. Instead he asked clients to buy gift certificates now for work he could do later.

Harold Rosenberg got one of those calls.

“He seemed a little hesitant,” Rosenberg said. “I mean, imagine if you had to call someone and ask them for money. It’s not the easiest thing to do. But I was glad to help him out — he's helped us out of tight situations.”

Rosenberg went to Eckerlin’s store the next day, buying $200 worth of certificates. Rosenberg’s wife, Janice Hamilton, decided that wasn’t enough.

“I just thought, if I needed help, how many people would I feel comfortable calling,” Hamilton said. “Probably not that many.”

“But,” she said, “the number of people willing to help might be surprisingly high.”

So Hamilton wrote a quick email to her neighbours in Montreal West explaining Eckerlin’s predicament. “I just said we’ve all has a computer problem, and we’ve needed him, and he’s been there for us. And now he needs us.”

The email spread rapidly from computer to computer in Montreal West. And then the money started pouring in — Eckerlin has now paid his rent up to April. The work is piling up too, with laptops now stacked on his tiny workspace. Eckerlin is determined to get rid of whatever viruses may come his way, and he said — optimistically — there are about 500 new viruses created every day. He foresees a long and successful future.

But whatever the future holds, Eckerlin is grateful. He’s posted a giant thank-you note outside his store.

Others are just glad they could help.

“He may not be, you know, the best money-maker, businessman in the world,”said Hamilton. “But he’s a good guy and people see that, and they’re willing to give him a break. I think that’s what it’s all about."

Richard Eckerlin

Richard Eckerlin stands beside his thank-you note in front of his store on Westminster Avenue. (Shawn Apel/CBC)