Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The power of anonymity

I discovered something the other day.  Call it an epiphany.

I love playing with ideas - Jason does as well - and our store is a bit of conversation that we ceaselessly toss about and dissect, always looking for the sides that we might have missed. Why didn't this work?  What can we do to improve this? How can we attract these people? What else should bring in? What about that "retail experience"? Are we really in the business of disappointing people? (I.e., you don't have bulgar?)

But something dawned on me. I remember going to big grocery stores with my kids, years ago. We had a blast, and I could never understand why so many parents left their kids home. But we rarely ran into the same person twice - even the cashiers were often different. I went to the same one, every week, yet it felt like the butcher never remembered me. The guy who weighed out salmon was pleasant, but distant. It was the opposite of our store, in fact - shopping at the larger groceries was a completely anonymous experience.

It's different in Medusa - and I know that's got to be strange for some of you, even as we approach year five. I sell tobacco and beer. I even sell condoms. (For the record, I don't think I have ever sold a pack of condoms. Maybe I should offer the colorful, studded ones.) I considered assuring you that I don't remember a thing about what you purchased five minutes after you leave the building. (That's the truth - blame it on the Lyme Disease.) Honestly, though, why would you care if I did?

Because there is something incredibly powerful about being anonymous, isn't there? It speaks to the current American experience - it is why we build cookie cutter developments that are fully auto-dependent. It explains why our small local churches are losing parishioners, and why the firehouses struggle to recruit new members. It is delightfully easy to be an individual without any ties to a world greater than Facebook. It makes New York City work - but that sense of community-less-ness is also why there are so many former City refugees gracing our villages.

What sort of places are we creating? This is important, I think - if we really want to create places that matter, places that breathe creativity and inspire beauty, then we can't be anonymous. There is no room for nameless individuals in our struggle to build (and re-build) our communities - only active participants. If we are serious, and I think more than a handful of us are, about the vision of self-reliant, sustainable communities - the kinds that have lots of weird little stores like ours - then you have to be willing to be a bit more vulnerable - a bit less anonymous.

And, in the long run, isn't it cooler that I know what kind of beer you like best anyway?

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