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Live Local, Live Small: Giving thanks and looking to the future takes patience and self-reliance

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“You’re not what I would think of as materialist,” Jonathan commented. It might have been the nicest thing my friend could have said to me. I had just finished breathlessly, excitedly recounting my VW restoration project.

give thanks

Illustration by Kyle Peeler

“It’s not about the thing—the ownership,” I tried to explain to him. It’s about the experience. It’s the project and working on it with Jock. It’s the feeling that I am learning something everyday I work on this: a skill that I will need, like self-reliance, a deeper understanding of design, automotive history and development, and most of all patience. It’s not one of my strong suits but patience is essential for VW restoration.

After years of lusting after VW buses, we have acquired a ’67 split-window camper bus with a full interior. It also needs a tremendous amount of restoration, and the interior is currently sitting on the floor of the garage next to the engine and transmission, which are also no longer inside the bus. “The Argus,” as she is named, will run again (hopefully, by spring) to take an epic pilgrimage cross country to research a book I have been working on for years and hope to finish in the next two. But that trip is going to involve two of the most important people in my life outside of my dogs, and what it will mean is something that can’t be put in a bag or a box. It’s not something you can hang a price tag upon.

Planning the restoration and the trip is an interesting exercise, especially around Thanksgiving. So much of what is happening with the bus reconnects me with small businesses in the area. Finding a local distributor of POR-15 for rust treatment led me to the Napa store in Leland and AJ Tucker supply on Kerr Avenue. Everyone told me I had to order it online. Ha! Not so. Daryl at Silver Lake VW is going to overhaul the transmission now that it is out of the bus, and I’ve met some very interesting people in my search for a paint shop for it.

I’m still looking for someone with a lot of experience with classic cars, especially with VWs. If you have a recommendation, please, drop me a line. It is a whole new world to me, and the joy I feel sitting in the bus, sanding rust from the ceiling, is something I never thought would happen. It honestly defies explanation. It is deeply meditative and has given me a lot of time to think about where things are heading.

Thanksgiving is the demarcation line in the land of small business: For retailers, it is the kickoff of the holiday shopping season. For restaurants and bars, it’s when things really crank up with office holiday parties, catering and increased walk-in traffic from families going out to eat. In the last few years, a new phrase has been added to our national lexicon: “Small Business Saturday.” It’s the bookend to Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving and the biggest retail shopping day of the year when people beat down the doors of big-box stores at absurdly early hours for great deals on cheap plastic crap). By contrast, Small Business Saturday was developed to try to funnel some of that spending power into the coffers of small businesses. American Express dreamed it up and largely promotes it. In years past, they have offered rebates to people who spend money at small businesses on that day using an American Express card.

As a small business owner, I found myself feeling a strange sense of anticipation leading up to this big weekend of retail mania. I remember the first Black Friday that we owned the bookstore very clearly: It was the first day we broke $500 for a day’s receipts. That’s a bad morning at Barnes & Noble, but for us it was remarkable! It was also the day that I first had the thought that we could actually survive financially as a business. Of course, a lot in the land of our little bookstore has changed since then: different location, expensive move, the loss of my parents and business partners, changes in the economy and the world of book selling—both new and collectible. It’s just almost impossible to compare in a few short years.

It is interesting for me to contemplate, because my basic outlook on life is one of gratitude for all that I am so lucky to experience. Entrepreneurship requires a special blend of optimism in the face of obstacles, tinged with a certain amount of risk aversion. Instead of counting down the blessings of what has happened and what I am fortunate for, I find myself more so looking to the future and contemplating what is to come this year. In the past, I keenly felt the responsibility I had to my parents to make good decisions and implement the vision. Now, that has changed, and though I have their memory and their hopes, I am still processing the legacy of their dreams for us. That might be a bigger obligation to fulfill than their expectations while they were alive. 

There is a lot on the horizon for the business community downtown. The transportation bond passed in the most recent election, which means the Front Street enhancement project will continue. Just to recap: That’s the tearing up of the street, redoing of the electrical, plumbing and sewer, and repaving and remolding of the sidewalks. Having lived through the first phase of that in our old location, I am quite conscious of what that will entail at our new location when the project resumes.

The parking deck redevelopment looms large. Parking, ever an issue, continues to concern downtown business owners. The recent survey the city sent out ( requests your feedback on the situation. Please, suggest some changes that would make it better for you. If you have opinions, now is the time to make them heard.

Also, the Municipal Service District plan is back on the table. In a nutshell: It would be a special tax on downtown property owners to fund additional services for downtown. At least they are trying to include the stakeholders in it this time: I got a survey in mail about it. Admittedly, it was a carefully crafted survey that did not allow any space for dissent, but that’s how surveys tend to work. It is a step forward over the last time it was proposed as an 11th hour fait accompli. So, my taxes are going to be going up in the next couple years, which is something to plan for. Hopefully, the community will see some larger investment from it.

It has taken me a long time to come to a point of realizing that giving thanks is important and a frequently under appreciated act. Continuing to work for the larger good is possibly more important. It’s really easy to ignore things as they are happening and then complain later. But to be part of the discussion proactively is possible the best investment we can give our community. Our voices and investments can be the best way to give back to our community, but it takes patience and teamwork to make it happen. It can be frustrating, because so often it feels like our opinions get ignored. But if we don’t speak, who will?

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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