Spread too thin…

12 04 2010

“The acquisition of one sort of ability often makes that of another unlikely, if not impossible…To take the gifts one does have to concentrate on one’s strength upon their development, to disallow distractions–none of these is an easy task.” ~ Joseph Epstein

At the moment, I think I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.

One work project is wrapping up and another officially got underway today.

I’ve been enjoying helping friends with their social media sites for their stores.

My attempt to get our HOA to represent the Homeowners has exploded into THREE projects rather than the one since it has been determined that I’m dealing with a hydra.  Add to that one crazy as hell neighbor and I could make a full time job of tackling this beast.

I *so* need to complete my taxes.

I need to find a charity willing to take the Jeep AFTER I get the back window repaired (and after I figure out how to get THAT done if the darn thing won’t move!) thanks to the vandals over the weekend.

I want to see my commitment to the April Challenge at 750words.com all the way through to the end.

I’m working on a perpetual calendar idea with mighty magnets which has led to an idea involving jewelry.

And more than anything I want to write about 7 – 10 blog posts I have running around my head.  If only I could clone myself or find more time in the day, but that in itself is a whole other blog post.

Bit by bit, step by step, day by day I will get to them all.  I need the balance they all bring.  I am working through many things in my life at this point and each of these is also helping with that processing through the grief.


Passion? Hobbie? More?

7 03 2010

I think I’ve always loved to shop.  I tend to really like the small indie boutique stores.

Fredericksburg, VA is one of my favorite places because it combines the old town feel with items you don’t find everywhere in colorfully decorated stores with great store front window displays. I was born in Fredericksburg, VA and it wasn’t always the shopping destination it is today complete with coffee houses, restaurants, period costumed Civil War re-enactors, carriage rides, etc. For quite a while the historic downtown area seemed to be dying and then small local shop owners started moving in and renovating the area.

We developed a family tradition of shopping there on Black Thursday every year.  It saved us all the crowds in the malls, provided a delicious (non-turkey) meal, fresh air, and lots of fun shops to investigate with unique finds for the people on my shopping list. We would make effort to make it downtown whenever we were up visiting my grandparents’.  Over those visits we developed a routine of visiting our favorite stores and restaurants which led to relationships with many of the shop owners.

It was heart breaking whenever we would arrive downtown on one of our pilgrimages and find one of our favorites gone.  I still miss the little coffee shop with the sweet owner that liked to experiment with the flavors of her cappuccino’s.  Regardless of the frequency of our visits, she always remembered me and would try and top the flavor combination she had done before, always remembering what it was that I liked.  Sadly, the building’s owner saw how well her store was doing, got greedy and tripled her rent, effectively running her out of business.  Then there was the specialty dog store owner who always took such special interest in my pooches, helping me to come up with solutions when my heart dog lost his leg, and mourned with me when he ultimately lost his battle with cancer. We watched her store grow from a small store front to a much larger one, but eventually we also lost her and all of her wonderful (and hard to find) products. We also had a great restaurant on our that provided a great atmosphere, a respite from turkey, and a nice little break from our day of shopping.

Some great and no so great stores have filled the gaps left by these ‘institutions’ over the years.  Once again there is a delicious restaurant where our original was located and you can still see some of the original bones of our first love.  Another great restaurant had taken the spot my little coffee shop was in, but it took some time before another coffee shop who’s vibe was calming replaced my favorite and to get it I had to lose another of my favorite stores.  Thankfully my favorite book store is still there and even though I’m sure I could find some of the books I buy there cheaper elsewhere I always make an effort to buy something there and have placed orders for shipping to NC from there if I wasn’t going to be back up before I needed the gift.  I do this because I don’t want to see them go AND because the friends who receive the gift of books from there know that the store holds special meaning to me, they know it takes an effort to get the book from there, and they know that the shop keepers there work extra hard to help make personalized suggestions.

I often regret that I don’t live closer, that I wasn’t at my favorite shops enough to help them stay afloat, and that there wasn’t an easy way to get the word out about the special stores with the great products and the even greater staff.  I mourn the loss of not just the stores and their cool items, but the relationships I developed with the owners and operators.  I think that this regret is part of what fuels my current passion.

I moved back to the Cary, NC area (from Raleigh) in 2002. It has a much smaller downtown area than Fredericksburg, but it has a somewhat similar vibe. It has also has a much greater turnover rate, enough that I hadn’t been able to develop the kind of relationships I had with the shopkeepers of Fredericksburg.  Then one day I wandered in to a stationery store (can’t remember what led me there, but it is near my office so I may have just been using my lunch break for some retail therapy).  I was almost transported 4 hours north when I walked through the door and felt like I was home.  Friendly shop staff who visit after visit would remember me from the time before and over time developed a feel for ‘my’ style, ‘my’ taste.  At some point over the years the relationship has morphed from shopkeeper/customer to friends. When they go on shopping trips they keep me and my interests in mind, I can go in and tell them what I think I need and they can help me find it, and if I don’t have a clue but describe who I’m shopping for they always come up with the perfect thing.  They make me look good.  My friends know when they see the store’s sticker on the gift that they are going to love it. My new friends have been there for me at the best of times and they have been there for the very worst of times.  In the past year alone they’ve seen me through 2 weddings, at least 3 births, and 3 funerals. They saw me through the drug trials I went through to find the right treatment for my ADHD and were key in helping me note the different effects from the different medications so that I could report them back to my doctor.

In that same ‘village’ of shops I found 3 more stores with which I’ve become quite smitten.  One is known by mom’s to be as the source of their baby shower gift, one provides me with the ‘giant microbes’ that re-create, in stuffed animal form, the microorganisms I work with everyday.  They keep me in mind whenever new ones are revealed and report in at the stationery store that ‘Trouble’ should be notified that a new yeast is at the store and I should pop by when I’m in next to check it out.  The final store of this quad dresses me, but it goes way further than that. They’ve taught me what colors look good on me, which shapes flatter, and which brands fit me best.  They are responsible for developing the style I have today. The one that always gets me compliments, the one that has people shocked to find that I’m a microbiologist/nerd girl and not some eclectic, trendy, artiste. They too are now more friends than salespeople.  They’ve held things aside for me that they thought would interest me, they began carrying a line of shirts I fell in love with so that I wouldn’t have to order them online, they’ve kept an eye out for dresses for special events, and they’ve sewn for me…either tightening buttons or sewing them closed completely so I wouldn’t have a wardrobe malfunction. More than any of this (already more than enough things you would never find in a larger store), they have also become a source of support and encouragement to me and like the ladies at the stationery store, I hope I have been the same to them.

The stationery store and this clothing store were both stores I visited the day after my Grandfather passed away in an effort to keep my routine as normal as possible, struggling to keep myself on an even keel, but knowing that were I to lose it in either of these stores I would be safe and cared for and I was right. The stationery store fed me, watered me, hugged me, consoled me, and contacted a friend to come get me when it was determined my attempt to maintain a normal Saturday was not successful.  They helped me find a way to pay tribute to my Grandfather’s memory and later helped me find the right thank you cards to send to those who had shown their love and support at the loss of my Grandfather.  The ladies of the clothing store also hugged and consoled.  They had called the day before to tell me that two of the dresses from a brand that usually worked for me had arrived in store and they had thought the one would be perfect for a wedding I was attending later in the spring and another that they thought would go with many of the accessories I owned.  It turns out that second dress ended up being the dress I wore to my Grandfather’s funeral.

Last but not least is a gift store closer to my home.  The store called to me, it was like all of of the greatest things I loved about the stores in Fredericksburg rolled into one.  I window shopped there many times before I actually walked through the door and when I did it became obvious why the store screamed my name, its store owner is like a friend you’ve known all your life.  Someone who knows you intimately and likes you anyway. Developing a friendship with her happened faster than the others, I think partially because she met me when I was at my rawest. Grief stricken, drug-adled, and feeling all over the place and yet she never judged and always provided encouragement and support…giving new meaning to ‘retail therapy’.  We have way too much fun now and I have to limit my lunch visits to her store because we can talk FOREVER about everything and nothing.

All of these stores have several things in common: they are small, locally owned businesses, they are all very attentive to their customers, and they all are very appreciative of customer loyalty.  I did all of my holiday shopping this year in these stores and noticed several things: I got more gift for less money, I did very little, if any, gift-wrapping, each of them treated me for my loyalty over the year, and rather than feeling stressed and strung out by mall crowds my shopping felt more like visiting friends and shopping WITH them.  They all have something else in common, their marketing budgets are small and they survive mainly by word of mouth and customer loyalty.

From these experiences I have learned I have a new passion.  It has become my mission to help these stores get the word out about why they (and the other small businesses around them that I frequent) are worth checking out.  That there is a misconception that small businesses like theirs are inherently more expensive than the big stores.  That being loyal to small locally owned businesses is a win-win situation…I would not have received the personalized care and service that I did at these stores from the major department stores.

To achieve this goal, I have been using my interest in social media to try and help these stores get the word out.  It is interesting because the majority of skills I am using to do this are more hobbie related than my education and background and I am LOVING IT.  I find it great fun to track down their vendors on Twitter and Facebook to follow or favorite so we can build their network.  I enjoy thinking of ways they can use those platforms to spread the word about their products and increase the traffic in their stores.  I get absolutely giddy and become absorbed for hours looking through blogs and checking out websites for additional products that would fit their respective stores themes/vibes.

More than one person has indicated that they are sorry this isn’t something I could do for a living so that I could be doing something I love so much.  However, I absolutely love my science based day job while this ‘hobby’ of mine addresses the social/artsy side of myself.  I need both to feel ‘complete’.  Moreover, this ‘hobby’ is not only fun and interesting (and allows me to spend more time with my friends), but challenges me and relaxes me.

Before you think too kindly of me, know that I have selfish reasons for what I’m doing as well.  I love these people, I love their stores, and I want them to succeed so that I can continue to shop at these stores that carry the products that I love to buy.  Like I said, hopefully it will be win-win. We’ll be able to increase traffic to their stores, which will hopefully increase their revenue, and help them become/stay profitable so that they can keep providing the level of attention and quality that has won me over for life.

Shameless Plugs/Show My Friends Some Love-

Please check out the following on Facebook:


The Write Image Stationery and Gifts

The Wilderness House, Cary NC

Science Safari

And you can follow these two on Twitter:



Not in the area? You can follow @ShopLocally on Twitter for ways you can help the stores in your area.

In Fredericksburg, VA? Look for this store on Facebook:

The Griffin Bookshop and Coffee Bar