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The “R” Word

October 15th, 2008

I’m hearing a lot about the big bad “R” word these days… Recession. Whether or not the current financial upheaval on the global market is an indication of things to come, we’re all feeling that fear of not knowing how far our money will take us, or how short we’ll be at the end of the month. 

This afternoon, when I returned to work from a lunchtime walk, I passed by the old McNally Robinson bookstore on Stephen Ave. For those of you who don’t know it, the store was massive. Three floors. Gorgeous. Could best Chapters or Borders in any competition. Part of a chain, yes, but a small chain. A handful of stores across the country and a new one in New York.

We were all a little shocked at first when we heard about the closure. In many ways, it felt like losing a longtime friend. After all, when I worked at Critical Mass, every few weeks I’d find myself downtown at lunch, or after work, and I’d always stop in and buy my next book, a magazine, or a small gift for a friend. 

Anyhow, seeing the empty shell of a building today got me thinking about another big “R” word.Responsibility. Specifically, our financial responsibility. Everyone is cutting back – myself included. But don’t I have a responsibility to put my money where my heart is? To support the business I’d be sad to lose instead of the one that’s most convenient? I’m trying to remember this, to shop more at Kensington Wine Market and Janice Beaton and less at Superstore. And no, it’s not always possible, but I do what I can. Even though I can afford less than I could a few months back, I want to make sure that the money I can and do spend ends up in the places that I want to frequent, now, and years in the future. 

Obviously, I’m writing this from the perspective of a small business owner. Sandra and I own a great yarn shop, as most (all?) of you know by now. And trust me, we’ve noticed the big bad “R” around here the past couple of months. I’m sure your favorite LYS has as well, as have your book shops, hair salons, manicurists, corner stores, or whatever other little business make your day. Because I believe in putting my money where my mouth is, I’m going to be focusing on spending Responsibly. On choosing the indie restaurant over the big chains. The little sandwich shop over the food court. If a business I love can’t make it work, I want to know that I did what I wanted to do, that I gave it whatever support I felt it deserved. 

Now that McNally Robinson is no longer a fixture here in Calgary, I miss it more than I would have realized at the time. When I no longer worked downtown, it was easy to forget about my favorite book store. It was easy to buy my books on Amazon, at Chapters, at Coles. Those small purchases couldn’t have saved McNally’s. But maybe… just maybe… if enough people spent their hard-earned dimes at their beloved store, it would still be around. 

So, I’ll stop ranting for now. I guess this whole thing just has me reflecting on my consumer responsibility in the world. Please forgive me for going on, and know that this isn’t written out of any feeling other than introspection, faith, and hope. 

Do something for yourself today. Think hard about the businesses you want to see at the end of this big bad “R”, and make them a priority. At least, even if it’s not enough, you’ll know they had your support all along. It’s like voting. If you don’t make your voice heard, how can you imagine you matter?

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8 Responses to “The “R” Word”

  1. Jen Says:

    Heya – A few things have changed in the last few months, yes, and the recession is one of them… but (and I am offering this honestly, and not intending for it to be hurtful in any way, shape, or form I promise) your involvement with the store has also changed, right?

    I used to look forward to checking the M1Y blog every day – it was updated so frequently and there were always some photos or projects described that would get me fired up and make me YEARN for new yarn, or to start a new project even before the last project was finished. Somehow when the new shopping website was launched, the old blog format was lost. Am I the only one who misses it? Who ‘bought’ whatever it was that you were selling?

    Now, that isn’t to say that you don’t absolutely have the right to a life, and that some personal balance isn’t definitely in order (and we all look for balance, ‘tho few of us find it)… I just wonder if I am alone here in thinking that the less I read about the amazing yarn you just received or the fabulous project that you just cast on or cast off, the less I add to my stash???

    I don’t know the answer, but I thought I would just throw it out there. It doesn’t all have to be you, all the time. If you are working at the Glenbow, or deeply involved in a personal family change… well, someone else at your store is receiving the fabulous new yarns, aren’t they? Get them a camera. And a password. Customers in your store are casting on and finishing projects all the time – let them guest blog about what they are excited about.

  2. Stephanie B Says:

    Very well spoken. I am with you all the way!

  3. Jen Says:

    Sorry, I also should have said…. I LOVE Make1Yarns, and I want only the best for you and for your store.

    I didn’t mean for it to sound so complain-y. Honest!

    Jen

  4. Phil Boncer Says:

    Your blog entry is 100% true and brilliant. Voting with your dollars is more effective and even more important than voting with your vote.

    PhilB

  5. Julie Says:

    I miss McNally Robinson too… but I did hear that they didn’t close because of lack of funds or support, but because that building was worth a bomb and they wanted to cash in.

    Beats me why they didn’t just move the whole kit and caboodle around the corner to someplace cheaper.

    Calgary still has one independent kids’ bookstore, though: Monkeyshines, in Marda Loop. I try to buy all my boy’s books there. I still spend as much as possible at small shops too — including Make 1!

  6. Heather Says:

    I do try to drop about a couple hundred in your store over the year, give or take – I can usually find things cheaper online, but I appreciate your small business (and wish I lived on a direct bus line to it…rats!). The very reason I shop with you, when I do, is because I’m trying to support you and your comfy couches.

    I do miss the M1 blog – it was really neat to follow along.

  7. Trish Says:

    I know how you feel….my favorite bookshop closed years ago when the neighborhood got too big for it’s britches and Borders moved in. Nothing will ever beat Lincoln Park Bookshop in Chicago. I still run across the old bookmarks the owner used to give out….and it makes me so sad that I won’t be able to take my children there. But…I can make sure my LYS stays open and the coffee shop right next door owned by her husband – thanks for the incentive and perspective!

  8. Judy G. Says:

    As a business owner myself, I know what you’re talking about. It’s sometimes hard to convince customers that a business with a heart can trump one that has a cold eye one the bottom line, but we try to do that every day. That being said, a lot of big businesses are owned by small shareholders who like to see a profit (or at least a minimal loss in times like this), so sometimes it’s hard to know what to cheer for.

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