Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Stores

Like Lucia, I can fall in love with certain stores, but the sock store isn't one of them. I understand the feeling. When you don't have a lot of money, a small thing can make your life feel so much better. During the Depression, lots of people would save to go to the movies every week. They couldn't afford to have a good life, but once a week they could afford to watch other people have that life, and in the process, almost be a part of it. I wasn't alive then, but Woody Allen was:



I also think of when I was in college, working nights for minimum wages, going to school during the day, spending more than half my month's money on rent, and having nothing left for even a little splurge. But when I got off work at 7 a.m., on the way home I used to pass a thrift store that had a mirror in the window, with a pretty frame and an etching of flowers in the bottom right corner of the glass. It was scratched, not in great condition, and cost about ten dollars. That doesn't seem like a lot now; it was then. The only mirror in my studio apartment was the tiny one over the bathroom sink. I never saw myself. It was almost as if I didn't exist from the shoulders down. And that little bit of etched glass was prettier than anything I owned. One morning I hung around downtown until the store opened, and bought the mirror. I remember feeling guilty, because I really didn't have the money to waste. But I kept the mirror for years, even after I could afford nicer things. It always made me happy. If I saw it now, I'd probably think it was junky looking. But for awhile it made me very happy. I could see myself. I existed. It's important to know you exist.

So I understand the need to splurge on a small, especially nice thing.

I still don't like the sock store.

I love stores that leave me with a sense that the person who owns it loves it too. There used to be a video store in town -- closed for years, as video rental fades into history. The store specialized in odd movies that you wouldn't find at Blockbuster: documentaries, foreign films, indies, oldies, and weird cult stuff. More importantly, everyone who worked there loved movies. If you rented a movie, they'd ask if you'd seen a different movie by the same director, or tell you about another, similar film they swore was even better. You could ask for something you vaguely remembered, but didn't know the title of, and half the time they'd know what you were talking about. Even if they didn't know, they wouldn't look at you like you were crazy. Of course, Amazon will do the same thing now. (Recommend movies, anyway, not figure out a title from a hint of plot), but it was nicer when you had a human being do it. And I always loved going in that store, because I just had a sense that the owner built it out of love, and that love got under your skin as soon as you walked in the door.

I love movies, so I guess it's to be expected that I would gravitate to a place that shared my passion, but I have the same feeling in other stores. Sometimes Lucia and I stop into a yarn shop downtown that we both love. She likes it for obvious reasons -- she's an obsessive knitter/crocheter, and loves the beautiful colors and rich textures of the yarns. Her imagination can make the leap from skeins of yarn to hats and socks. I can knit and crochet a little, but it's not something I love to do, and I can't look at a skein and see immediately what project would make the best use of its special qualities. Nevertheless, I love that store almost as much as Lucia does. In the back, there is a pretty little patio where women hang out to knit and talk. The store carries yarn hand-dyed by local craftswomen. The owner putters around the store in beautiful homemade scarves and sweaters. She obviously loves her work and her place. I know its a business, but it also seems to me like an enormous gift to the community of people who share her passion. I like the colors and textures, the way things are displayed so artfully. But even though I don't share the love of the craft, I appreciate the strange generosity of the store.

So, back to the sock store. I think it is smart marketing. I think someone realized that people would feel just what Lucia's feeling -- the need to splurge on a small thing. But I don't have the feeling that anyone opened that store with a strange passion for socks. So going in there just makes me feel kind of manipulated and depressed.

It's odd to think that a business can be an artistic expression, but it can be. That happens to be the theme of another one of my favorite movies. I appreciate businesses that believe passionately in what they're selling, and want to share it with other people, even if their customers don't always get it right away.

The customer is not always right.

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