Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Thing They Said Would Happen Has Happened

Missing my family terribly this morning. It's cool and grey and so the whole escape-the-heat premise of the summer in Vermont seems silly, and I have cleaned the house and napped and now I want my family back :( But of course, it's too soon. The mountains of writing in front of me have barely shifted. Miles to go before I take off up North. I'm very cavalier about money, lucky that way, but the ball is in my court right now, and I've got to take advantage while I can. Make hay while the sun shines, wot wot.

Read this quote today, refers to the Icelandic banking crises, but evokes so much more: 

So the rule now is, be humble, know your limitations and play to your strengths. And instead of thinking you know everything, ask questions; seek help.


I've gotten much better about doing this. It's why the store is still alive.

Something really satisfying happened yesterday: a middle-aged couple who lives about 12 miles away came back. They came about a month after we opened, thought (rightly), "oh, they don't have much," and haven't been back. Until yesterday. They wandered around with open mouths and delight on their faces: the cafe, the deli area, practically everything in-fact, was brand-new to them. They confirmed what I already knew: we've come a far, far way. 

I'm proud of that. It would have been nice to be an amazing store from the get-go, but it's perhaps more satisfying to continue evolving into something our customers really respond to. 

And the ground rule of that process is off that quote: know your limitations. Play to your strengths. Ask for help.

I am shocked and amazed and awed by the store, my customers, the attention we've received, a frigging book deal for heaven's sakes. Of course, absolutely no one, least of all me, is making what America would consider a living wage (luckily, it's cheap down here. Luckily, my house is paid-for.) The store never has any extra money, constantly juggles what money has to go where, is perpetually drowning in paper-work and the bureaucracy every small business faces and is carrying a lot of equipment-related debt. It's not like we're just selling groceries and making money hand-over-fist. My old mercedes wagon rolls around north Mississippi laden down with watermelons and bread and everything else; someday, I aspire to buy a used delivery van. Dixie's still cooking on a cheap electric stove. We still have days where we look around at an empty store. Every dollar is clawed-for. This week, for example; average sale per customer was down over a dollar per, which is huge. No extra money at all this week. Let's hope the store's having a good sunday so I can pay everybody and not start negative for the week tomorrow.

But we are still here. We are doing a good job. We are being rewarded in ways including money but also attention, thanks, and the delight on our customers' faces when we go the extra mile and bring them something remarkable. And of course, a book deal.

I think sometimes people only define success in terms of financial recompense. And yes, we all need money to live. But living in Mississippi has taught me the intangible value of recompense: community. Ease. Gratitude. Enjoyment. Importance. Safety. (In two-plus years of business, we've never had a customer bounce a check.) My children can come to work with me and stir cake batter, chop artichoke hearts, run next door to visit Miss J., play with neighborhood kids, eat butterfly-shaped sandwiches made with love by Miss Dixie. 

I could earn more money doing something else. I'm not sure I could make a better living. 

Now, back to the grindstone, so someone in New York City will give me a check that we can tuck away for whatever we get excited about next; K & A LLC tends to take on big projects, and it's been at least a year.

Picture: First tomato of the season, of a completely rogue plant that came up in a bucket on the courtyard side of the house. Improbable as hell but loaded down with these fluted tomatoes.

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