“Eavesdropping can be shocking”serves as the perfect tagline for my recent evening out to dinner. My dear friend Nini and I had finally, after months of trying to get schedules synced, managed to actually sit across the table from each other at local farm-to-table restaurant The Basics. After about 20 minutes of catching up, an attractive young man was seated at the table next to us and began to wait. He seemed a little nervous and waited for a good chunk of time before an equally attractive dark and slender young woman joined him.
Well, I thought. She looks like she was worth waiting for.
They began the nervous conversation of not-old friends, when suddenly I heard a word that always rivets my attention: “bookstore.” More so, they were talking about my bookstore. It was actually the topic of conversation! Oh, frabjous day!
Wait, it is bad manners to eavesdrop, i thought. But I just couldn’t stop.
“I heard that—the little old man that used to own it? And the girl who bought it from him was made to sign a contract saying she wouldn’t change a thing. And then—when she got it—she changed everything!”
The young lady emphasized the last remark with her hand. Her companion’s jaw dropped.
“That’s not true!” I suddenly sang out. She didn’t hear me and was gearing up for her second assault, so I said it louder. “That’s not true! I’m the person who signed the contract and that is not true at all.”
“That’s what I heard.” She lifted her hands with a sly smile.
“No,” I repeated. “I signed the contract and that isn’t true—and we had to move because our building got condemned. Mr. Daughtry still comes by to have coffee with us. That is not true.”
Each party returned to its rather awkward dinner. I found myself wondering from where this idea of “change nothing” could come. It’s an incident that came hard on the heels of another conversation I had the night before with my friend John—about integrating newer, sustainable building practices and how to open up old-timers to change.
“If it has worked for me for 30 years— why would I change?” It’s a valid question. But the answer is simple: money. Decisions in business are motivated by money: making it and saving it. If a new practice can do one or both, then it’s got a future.
Now, our young lady from earlier was far too young to have enough experience in adulthood to realize that no one would purchase a business with a contract that bound them to reject all changes. Anyone with the least bit of life experience would weigh that statement and know it’s false. I mean, if that were true, then when the building was condemned, not only would we have been contractually obligated not to move but not to accept any possible repairs to the building. We would never have been able to implement a system for credit cards or even issue receipts, let alone steam the carpets or have book signings—all of which are things Mr. Daughtry did not do during his tenure with the store.
I think part of what I found so surprising is that one of my ongoing battles with the Live Local world—and ironically enough with the bookstore—is people are forever accusing me of resisting change or as they call it “the inevitable.” Yes, I continue to fight a battle to reclaim a way of life that has gone by the wayside for many people: a world where I spend money with business people I know personally rather than online and with credit cards. I would rather live in a world where respect gets treated to a person—not a number—where one’s privacy is valued, not exploited.
Still, I am not so foolish as to resist change, but rather to embrace a very great change for many people. That might sound like a strange thing to say for a self-proclaimed luddite, but I think at the core of what the luddites were concerned about was the human cost of change. By luddites, I refer to the weavers of the early 19th century who rebelled against the mechanized weaving looms of the Industrial Revolution. The machines would eliminate their jobs and replace them with far less-skilled workers at rock-bottom prices. Unfortunately, from a vantage point of 200 years in the future, we do know they lost but not without a fight. In theory some sort of compromise could have been reached that could have kept more people employed and more families fed, but it would have meant smaller profits for the mill owners.
The paradigm of putting humans and quality of life ahead of either profits or consumer convenience is change on such a scale that it could be considered revolutionary. However, 200 years later we are still unprepared to consider such large-scale change. In any negotiation, one has to start with an extreme position in order to be able to reach a compromise. If you begin where you want to end up, there is no room to maneuver. So, I take an extreme position, and I shop local to keep the maximum amount of money circulating in this ecology and to keep as many people employed as I can.
Somewhere along the way, while having this conversation, I hope that a few other people will start making an effort to shift their spending and that we can make a real and serious impact. To make this happen in my life, I have to be willing to embrace some very big, very real changes that were very hard for such a routine-oriented person as myself—but I did.
As I discovered myriad small businesses that could meet my needs, I also made some wonderful friends and found my place in a real community—a web that I am entangled with financially, economically, emotionally and personally. It’s a change that, honestly, can only be equated to an adaptation essential for survival.
Change nothing? Are you kidding? It changed everything.
Gwenyfar Rohler is the author or ‘Promise of Peanuts,’ which can be bought at Old Books on Front Street, with all monies donated to local nonprofit Full Belly Project.