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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

How I Am (Already) (a Little) Like a Farmer

Contented cattle

 I lay awake most of the night, tossing restlessly, quizzing myself on prices and inventory, worried whether anyone would even shop with me or appreciate the food that I’d worked so hard to grow. At the same time, I worried that we might be so busy I’d need to serve two lines at once. The uncertainty only fueled my anxiety. 
...Filled with nervous energy, we speculated about what the customers would think of us and reminisced about how far we had already come. I couldn’t ignore the butterflies in my stomach.  
-       Forrest Pritchard, Gaining Ground: A Story of Farmers’ Markets, Local Food, and Saving the Family Farm
The quotes above were Forrest recalling the first time he and his father trucked grass-fed beef, pastured chickens, and fresh eggs to market, hoping to realize a profit. A few chapters later he recounts his experience at another market in a different town, where two women asked innumerable questions about the pullet eggs for sale, growing more and more amused by the minute.
The two of them enjoyed a long laugh, leaning against each other as they walked away from my stand. They didn’t buy anything. I ended up selling about sixty dollars’ worth of food that day, including three cartons of Itty Bitties [the pullet eggs] at a dollar apiece. I could have turned more of a profit selling grape slushies at the local convenience store.
Last Friday morning, when I woke in the dark with more than enough time to do my morning tasks and got up to read a while first, Forrest’s stories brought tears to my eyes. It wasn’t that I felt sorry for him (and they were certainly not tears of laughter) but that I recognized from my bookselling experience what he must have felt: Here are my precious offerings, invested with my time and energy – with my life! – and people are just walking on? Entertained?  Ah, yes! I'll probably never forget the well-dressed woman who asked so many curious questions about my business and then turned to her well-dressed husband and exclaimed in delight, "What a cute hobby!" And they bought nothing.

But while some people have simply walked by – or driven by – or strolled in and out again empty-handed – enough visitors to Dog Ears Books have become customers that, five locations and 21 years later, I'm still in business in Northport. As Pritchard realized early in his farming career, it isn’t enough to raise high-quality food -- or, for me, to stock high-quality books. In order to stay in business, one must have buyers

My customers of the past 21 years, though, have been much, much more than merely buyers. Many of these loyal independent bookstore patrons have become good friends. Some live nearby, while others visit only once a year, but our various connections and reconnections through books and dogs and other common interests discovered in conversation mean a lot on both sides -- even (I'll be honest here) when we can't immediately recall one another's names.

Friendships with writers have flourished in the bookstore, too. (And yes, writers buy books, too!) I had a few writer friends back in Kalamazoo days but have met many more through my bookstore than I would have come to know without it. What marvelous people they are! So appreciative! So generous!

Poets! Poetry! In 1993, in the little shed down the street where the huge bowling alley and bar/restaurant complex now stands, on those summer days that always began, back then, with butterflies in my stomach (oh, Forrest, I know those butterflies well!), over and over again I was surprised and pleased at the number of people who asked, “Do you have a poetry section?” And yes, we did!  So having 13 poets (a baker’s dozen) on Friday the 13th of June, anticipating by a few weeks our official July 4 anniversary, seemed an appropriate way to celebrate our 21 years in business. Here is post #1, in case you missed it, and here is post #2, for a closer introduction to each poet with us on Friday.

What could be more special? Anne-Marie Oomen, Mary Ann Samyn, and Teresa Scollon have done readings with me in recent years past (follow links for each name to revisit their visits to Dog Ears Books); the other guest writers I met on Friday for the first time.

Friday the 13th, 2014, was a day that will shine in my memory as a once-in-my-lifetime event. Many superlative Michigan poets and an appreciative, standing-room-only local audience. Truly, it seems reality, and not mere wording, to say that Dog Ears Books has come of age this season, 21 years to date from our modest beginning. 

Faith, hope, hard work, and appreciative customers: these are what save family farms and independent bookstores alike.


Susann said...

I couldn't help but think of you when I read
The Book Refuge by Janet Malcolm, from the June 23,2014 New Yorker. A wonderful article about an independent bookshop in New York! Read it!!!! You won't be disappointed .SS

Karen Casebeer said...

Your last photograph looks like a painting. Very lovely, Pamela.

P. J. Grath said...

I'll look for that article, Susann. Thanks! And Karen, the last photo went through Photoshop, but I can't remember exactly what I did to it. It was a while ago.

Lovely farm market this morning (Friday) in Northport. The bread lady from 9 Beans Rows said she loves our market: "Northport shows up!" Indeed, I'd told David when I left the house early today, "I don't want them to think I'm just a fair weather shopper." Gorgeous purple onions and kale from Bare Knuckle Farm. Etc., etc.