Stumbling into Summer

A few months ago The Goat and I took a leap of faith and I “shuffled” my business into a larger space.  Let me first explain, I use the word shuffle instead of move, because move implies that we relocated, got a new address, new phone, and had to go all out to notify people of the process.

That’s not what happened.  My shop is in a large historic building that currently houses 4 businesses.  That number has fluctuated over the 6 years we’ve been in the building; businesses start up, expand and move out, or sadly, close and leave.  Through all of the various changes, two things have remained constant, my shop and the coffee shop.  But even the coffee shop is on it’s second set of owners/operators.

A few months ago, a larger space in the same building became available, and we decide to move into it, hence the word “shuffle” and not move.   Because we remained in the same building we were able to keep the same phone number and address.  Although, moving the landline was a comedy of errors.  Did I mention the building is old?

The new location has proved beneficial, and it’s been mostly positive.  The shop now has its own entrance and furnace.  This makes us easier to find, easier to heat/cool, and it’s made having hours of operation that differ from the other businesses much easier too.  The space is quieter, which is a weird thing, as I knew it was noisy in the old space, but I didn’t realize just how noisy until the noise was gone!

But, (You knew there was a but didn’t you?), it’s also increased my stress level.  I’m sure that will eventually change, but for now, it’s a struggle.

You see, with a larger space comes larger bills – rent, utilities, maintenance, fixtures, and even inventory to fill it.  And I knew that going in to it, that’s why it was a leap of faith.  But lately, this has been weighing heavily on me.  Mainly because I see other similar shops in the region seemingly thriving while I feel as if I’m floundering, and I get terribly frustrated by that.

Now I know that like personal social media, business social media is all about image and “keeping up with the Joneses”.  But that doesn’t make it any easier when you’re struggling to pay your bills and you know that your competitors are doing things you should be doing but that you can’t do for reasons that include funds, time, and resources.   All things needed to run a business.

While I have a pretty strong support system, I’m still pretty much a one woman operation.  The Goat is great about helping around the house when needed, especially during the summer when he’s not at his paying job.   I have a great young woman that helps me out on Thursdays, and I’ve got 2 or 3 talented local artisans who help with class instruction.

But the majority of the operations still fall to me.  And while I’m diligent and find that I really do get a helluva lot done, it’s hard to reconcile and accept my frustration when I hear about others who have actual paid staff to help them brainstorm, schedule, man the shop, help customers, and handle all the extra events.

Again,  I knew it was going to be hard work when I started the business.  I’m not looking for a pity party or an “I told you so”, I’m just trying to express this frustration that’s been bubbling up as anger and indifference lately.

As I watch so many similar businesses seemingly succeed at what I’m struggling with – community events and the shops own schedule, commitments of our household, trying to keep up with the trends and changes in the market, and trying to offer the customers the next great thing while maintaining the solid foundation of items they expect – I start to reexamine the big picture.


A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat (image from wikipedia)

And the big picture, like a Seurat, looks very different the closer you get to the details.  It’s those details that are causing me to stumble and doubt right now.

While everyone else is looking at things from a distance, and seeing a cohesive image. I’m the one picking the colors for the dots and making that big picture look like something recognizable.  And I feel like I’m running out of the colors that I need, like that picture is going to become something else than what I had intended.

It was a long winter – yes I know it’s June.  It’s been a rainy, grey, damp and cool Spring.  Summer’s schedule is jam packed.  My health isn’t what I’d like it to be right now.  All of these outside factors dim the bigger picture.   I know they shouldn’t, but they do.  They make it very difficult for me to stay motivated and stay positive.  And that lack of motivation and positivity can make it difficult to skip through the sunshine and warmth of Summer (if it ever gets here – more rain and storms in today’s forecast) and to see the progress I have made at the shop.

I’m doing my best to keep the big picture clear and in focus.  And I’m doing my best not to let the little things change it; but some days that’s really difficult.  Maybe I just need to step back more often and not think about the stumbling steps that get me there.  Easier said than done.  But it can probably be done.

And if you’re stumbling too, you’re not alone, it takes a lot of tiny dots of color to make a cohesive picture, and every dot is important.  Some are bright, and some are not.  But together they make something grand.  Whatever the color you’re dealing with today, try to remember that it’s important and part of something much, much, bigger.

So, here I go,  stumbling with a palette of colorful experiences, into Summer…


Seashells on the shelf

My father is planning on moving.  That’s an understatement.  He’s looking at moving into a retirement community that is closer to us, his family; yet this new to him community is 5 hours away from his current home.  He’s reluctant to move, for good reason.  I can’t fault him for that.

A few others I know are also downsizing, for similar reasons – age, shrinking number of household members, health.  They too are overwhelmed with all the decisions and packing.

Often in situations like these, the packing and leaving a place you’ve called home for over a decade, (or in some cases, decades) can be panic attack inducing.  At the very least, it’s a very emotional, draining, and stressful life event.  Moving is never easy.  There are a lot of decisions to be made, schedules to coordinate, and stuff to sort.

By “stuff” I mean all those items we have a tendency to accumulate that make our house our home; the souvenirs from travels, gifts from loved ones, cherished mementos of those who are gone, odds and ends that are necessary for our current situation but may not be necessary in our new location – like weather related wardrobe options.  All of these items create a home that reflects the life of those who live in it.

My dad has a lot of stuff.  Most wouldn’t call him elderly, he’s still on the young side of “Senior Citizen”, but he’s had a life full of loss; and as he gets older those losses become more frequent.  Like so many of us, with loss, certain odds and ends that were once viewed as meaningless or trivial, now hold a value that can’t be calculated.  Physical items start carrying an emotional value that greatly out values their monetary worth.

IMG_3044For example, I have seashells decorated by my late grandfather, a mini rocking chair made out of a beer can by my other grandfather, various pieces of jewelry that belonged to my mom, grandmother, or great grandmother, cookbooks with notations made by my great grandmother and great aunts.   All of these items carry an intrinsic value that only I can calculate.  To any one else, they’re just trinkets, cool old books, or stylish retro jewelry.

I imagine the thought of moving is even more stressful for a hoarder, whether they admit their hoarding or not.  And I’m often told that many hoarders do so because of a stress or lack of resources during some period of their life – like the elderly who lived through the depression and reuse aluminum foil or paper plates.  (Don’t get me wrong, I’ll reuse these items too, but there is a limit.   You won’t get eggs and toast for breakfast and then a PB&J on the same paper plate for lunch. )

Now, I’m all for the minimalist lifestyle, and am daily trying to purge and limit the stuff that accumulates in our home.  But how does one go about incorporating those meaningful odds and ends with the necessary items and yet maintain an uncluttered living area? That is a true talent.   And how does one cope with that “what-if I need it someday?” internal conversation that drives so many of us to hold onto things that we shouldn’t, and moves us ever so slightly closer to hoarding?

I have heard it suggested that to purge your house, pretend that you are moving or use the box it up and forget it method – you know, if you box it up and don’t need it in a set time period, you don’t really

need to keep it anymore.  I’m not really sure either of these methods would work for us.  I’m not sure why, but I have feeling we’d just end up with a well organized attic or basement that would only stay well organized for a few short weeks.

Every year around this time, I tell myself I need to get up into the attic and start purging – we only get a few days a year when the attic isn’t to hot or too cold to stay up there longer than a few minutes as you’re retrieving or returning the item for which you went up there.  And every year my window of opportunity closes before I make a dent in the task.

And that’s ok.  Because let’s face it, everyone has their own comfortable level of “stuff”.  All I need to work on right now, is maintaining a level that doesn’t go beyond our comfort level while keeping in mind that someday, when we reach the point of required downsizing, we’ll have to pack it all up.   Until then, I’ll just leave a spot on the bookshelf for Poppop’s seashells.


Building Community One Brick (and Mortar) at a Time

Open flagSaturday was “Local Yarn Shop Day”.  Yep. Apparently that’s a thing now.  I have mixed feelings about such things.  I understand the desire to showcase specialty shops, but I feel like the specialty shops need to do extra work to “observe” these designated days.  I had to keep reminding myself that there’s also “Record Store Day” and “Free Comic Book Day” so I guess we’re in good company?!

Thinking about these type of events got me thinking about brick and mortar specialty shops in general.  “Brick and mortar” is a term that’s recently been added to our vocabulary to mean a shop with a physical location.  To some, it might seem strange, that we need to designate that a shop occupies a physical space that a customer can visit.  But with the online stores and sites like E-bay, Etsy, and Amazon, there are ways to own a shop and not ever leave your home.  So, “brick and mortar” was coined as the phrase that designates a shop as a physical location that shoppers can visit during regular hours and seperate it from online retailers.

Besides yarn, records, and comic books, there are many types of  independent specialty stores – cheese, olive oil, pet, cigars, books, cards and stationary, scrapbooking, home brewing, housewares, running, cycling… you get the idea; and the majority of them are independently owned.  Years ago there used to be butchers, bakers, seamstresses, and other service oriented shops in every town, along with a variety of specialty shops. But these days we hustle into the grocery store and hustle out with our produce, baked goods, deli meats, and canned goods in our cart and stop at large box stores to pick up our random assortment of odds and ends.

We’ve grown so accustomed to convenience that we overlook the community that’s built by independent brick and mortar shops.

Sure, it might sometimes feel like you’re spending more time on your errands when you have to plan a trip to a butcher, a produce market, and a specialty shop when you could just point and click between phone calls, shop online from your desk, or stop at that mega box store on your way home.  But are you really saving time or just hustling to look busy?

When you shop at a butcher, for example, they learn your shopping habits – are you a freezer stocker or fresh daily shopper, the cuts you prefer, size of your household.  They learn this the old fashioned way, through regular interactions, not keystroke tracking cookies.

That personal touch that our grandparents took for granted (mostly because the world we currently occupy was the stuff of science fiction to them) is seeing a snail-paced resurgence as small specialty shops – think charcuteries and cheesemongers,  from scratch bakers, and small scale butchers, start popping up in quaint towns.

Are we starting to miss what seemed like mundane interactions to the generations before us?  Farmers’ Markets are popping up everywhere. Are we starting to crave the convenience of local over exotic?  I recently read an article about millennials frequenting book shops and record stores because having grown up in a digital age, they want the tangible, they want the hisses and pops of the recordings and the experience of turning a page.  Are we starting to notice the loss of human interactions and experiences?

Saturday afternoon, after closing up shop, The Goat and I went to an outdoor event at the local microbrewery located just a few blocks from my shop.  (Hurray! It was actually warm enough to be outside!) It was there that I realized that even if the shop didn’t have a great day, it’s part of something much, much, larger – a group of creative souls searching for the same thing – their community.

It was the little things that afternoon that made me reflect on the location of my shop; the hug from a fellow shop-keeper as she showed off her newborn and dog; the local kids playing tag in the street; an old friend The Goat hadn’t physically seen in a very long time, possibly years.  Even though I was exhausted, and it probably showed, I simply sat at a picnic table and watched the afternoon unfold.

I’m not opposed to online shopping, it’s a powerful tool.  I’m thankful that I can order from my suppliers either online or through e-mail because quite often, when the shop is busy, I can’t get to a phone to place orders during regular business hours.  However, I need to make a much more concerted effort to visit the brick and mortar businesses in my community – because without them there is no community. Will you do the same? Let’s rebuild our communities one brick and mortar at a time.

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