Friday, February 27, 2015

Embarking on new adventures

The open road...  We are yearning to get away for a bit. It's so cold and so hard to see the spring from my window next to the woodstove. The only newness I smell is the sleeping baby bundled up in her sling.

So it seems like the perfect time to hit the road. But we have a little something more than a vacation in mind.

We want to come back with stories.

Not just beach stories - we aren't very good tourists, really. (Tourism and large families just doesn't work.) We are heading out to uncover America. We want answers - we want to find out if there are other places, other communities, with firehouses and churches and cool little nature preserves, who have made strides in their struggle to become more resilient. We want to know if rural places just like us can tackle the big problems - like climate change and inequality and dismal economic conditions. While I know there isn't a magic bullet, I am still hopeful that bright, engaged people are making a difference. somewhere

I want to find those places.

So we are sending letters out - we wrote to Bill McKibben today, and he wrote back! - to find out if we can raise money and find those places. Then we are going to talk to those people and write about them and bring you back the stories. And take pictures. Hans says we must take lots of pictures. (It would be so much easier for him to just come along and take the pictures, but 6 kids AND a large dog in an RV... well, we just might need to lease the Tardis instead.)

And then we are going to learn from those places. And make things happen.

And so here's the kicker. We don't have much money, so we are asking for a little help from friends and fellow travelers (excuse the pun) to help us eat and buy gas. We'll be forging ahead with our 1976 RV, six kids (and maybe a few extras), a big tent and our sleeping bags.

We have a campaign set up at Indiegogo, and a Facebook page. Planning to get a more permanent home on the web soon, too.

You never know, maybe we'll get back and find that the next best thing would be to open up a general store in Medusa. You just never know.

Stay well, friends, and I hope our paths cross again soon.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Clearing the air...

So we closed. As of Dec 31st, we are longer operating the store. I was originally going to just post a note on Facebook, and be done. But I decided, after having some time to breathe, that a blog entry might clear up a few misunderstandings.

1. We are closing because running a store in our region is a lost cause.

Wrong. Our store supported a family of 5, and then 7 and 8, for years. It covered many mortgages and debt. Can someone else also do it? Yup. You won't make a ton of money - who, these days, is? - but it will be satisfying and successful.

We have always said that we had no intention of running the store forever. We had few employees capable of handling the day-to-day operations, which left one of us there, 12 hours or more a day. It meant that Jason literally worked 7 days a week, with a handful of postal holidays off, for years. That's too much.

Smarter folks might do it differently. Might do it better. Someone on my Facebook page wrote that we "weren't worthy to own the store". But we believed we were responding to a need, and to some degree, we were right.

2. We are closing because there aren't enough customers.

It is slower in the winter. I have tried to gently prepare you all for winters for years now - and by preparation, I mean that constant reminder that if you stop shopping here in the winter, we cannot survive. Mostly, folks remembered. But run the numbers - if the folks that live in the surrounding townships were to spend even $20 here every week, instead of Walmart or Stewart's or Hannaford, or Trader Joe's or Honest Weight, you wouldn't hear from me, and your store would thrive throughout the year.

I have lots of folks come in to remind me that the store was really incredible when Ernie and Ruth Bell ran it - how they remember their family coming here for their groceries once a week. Yet they can't buy more than a pack of cigarettes now. Or regaling me with near-mythical stories of the products that the Bells stacked in here, from floor to ceiling. They forget that we nearly doubled the size of the store. We might not sell glass or tires, but we offered a lot more fresh food than he ever did. And let's be honest, you wouldn't buy tires from me anyway.

3. We are closing because April (or Jason) pissed off too many customers.

I have no idea how to respond to this one. We have opinions - wallflowers wouldn't have reopened the store.

But it also never seems to occur to anyone that we are held to a much higher standard than a cashier at a big anonymous grocery store. We are somehow expected to offer you everything you want, for bargain basement prices, soothe your ego when today's paper offends you, solve your latest health crisis, all while carefully staying on the right side of your politics. And then you should be able to drift back to your life, anonymously. We cannot, always and flawlessly, live up to those expectations.

4. We are closing because we offer the wrong kind of products.

This is a favorite of mine. If only we offered product x instead, you would shop here instead. If only the water was priced 10 cents cheaper or we offered brand x instead of brand y, you would shop here. Take a walk in our shoes, just for a few minutes - how could we possibly satisfy everyone's cravings?

A corollary of this is the nasty messages I have gotten, accusing us of "forgetting" the locals, and that's why we are "being forced to close". Stunning, when you think about it. Often, in the same message is the accusation that I am somehow trying to force you all to eat organic food. Jason and I sold beer, loose tobacco, cigarettes, and gasoline. We ran a Boar's Head deli and sold Freihofer bread. All of these are were the results of direct requests.

Do you know what else "locals" wanted? Organic and gluten-free breads, fresh vegetables, Bob's Red Mill and organic pasta. They wanted junk food and sweets and Heather Ridge Farm chicken. And even though you would get angry because we were out of hotdog rolls occasionally, I stocked all of those things for you, local or not.

The problem was a simple one, and I have pointed it out to near-delirium: if you don't make a concerted effort to shop in Medusa regularly, whether or not we necessarily have this week's cheapest grapefruit or your flavor of potato chip, you risk us leaving, and then your choices are forever limited. Shopping local is, from this perspective, purely pragmatic. If you don't want to have to drive all the way to Greenville for gas, or just needed an ice cream sandwich, or really wanted to make a healthy dinner without driving all the way to Albany for the ingredients, then you had to make the effort to keep the store running. Too many of you chose Walmart and Honest Weight for us to want to continue.

We will forever be grateful for this experience - it was an amazing ride. This isn't goodbye - we love the hill towns and will continue to be involved. But it is the end of the Medusa General Store, at least for now.