Our grand opening is upon us. The official, official beginning to the physical part of our business. Although we thought this party would have happened at the end of last year it somehow seems more fitting for us to kick off 2012 with our celebration.
Say what you will about resolutions, beginnings make us take heed and be present in a way that we are not during other moments in life. They are the moments that we turn corners and recognize the hope and preciousness that is life.
Think about it: in our society, things that mark the beginning get way more attention than the everyday moments that really make up the bulk of our lives. We put more care and attention into beginnings. Marriages and birthdays especially come to mind. We stop to celebrate them annually. We even light firecrackers and throw down champagne toasts at the new year as though we have the chance to start our lives all over again.
And in a way, we do. Stopping to focus on the creation of something new is worth the attention.
My brother and I have been consumed by the attention it takes to start a business. What makes what we’re doing even more special is that we are not a start-up that is sequestered away behind closed doors at the top of a 20 story building or toiling away behind a garage door. On the contrary, we have thrown ourselves into the mix of a very lively community.
Our day-to-day struggle is to find the correct balance between engagement and efficiency. Every business is associated with administrative paperwork (bookkeeping, filing, etc.), marketing, general labor (in our case, moving shelves around, ordering inventory, re-stocking shelves, etc.), all of which need to get done every single day of the week.
On top of that usual stuff, what we are doing takes real face-to-face conversation: with farmers, with customers, with each other. And conversation takes time. Lots of time. Often, it feels as though it is time we don’t always have to give. But we constantly remind each other that the whole point of doing a store like this is engagement. If we had wanted to bury our heads in the dirt we could have stayed in San Francisco and opened up an online business.
To put a shop in a building that had been boarded up and silent for at least a decade makes people pause. To put a shop in a place where there are more liquor stores than grocery stores is even more reason to stop and ask questions.
Every morning as we start up the coffee machines and prepare the pastries, we sweep and dust off shelves, and we watch commuters drive by. When they stop at the traffic light right outside our store their eyes drift over to the sign in our window. Then they look up to read the bigger sign above our window. Then they look again at the store even more confused than before.
Eventually, some of them come back to see what we are. They walk in, puzzled looking. We wave them to step further into the store.
What is this? they ask.
It’s a grocery store.
Ohhhh. (Still confused.)
We specialize in local, natural, and organic foods.
Like Whole Foods?
Sort of, if Whole Foods were a convenience store.
This eventually launches into more questions about what made us want to open a health store or why we chose to open one here, on this corner, and how they have been thinking more about how they eat and how excited they are by seeing us do something healthy like this in this neighborhood. We explain our vision, how it will unfold over the next few months, and ask how we can better serve them.
Our large picture windows only serve to strengthen our message in a way that only transparency can in this day and age. You will see when you come to celebrate with us on Monday night.
We try to treat every conversation as a new beginning. This is our daily work. And every day when someone leaves with a glow in their eyes and a smile spreading across their face, it is a celebration.
What we bring to a community that has been ignored by traditional retailers is attention and a chance to build something new. A new life. A new perspective. A new understanding. A new sense of pride. People see the care that we put into this place and the time we take to talk about the store and know immediately that we respect them. And it makes them want to come back.
Even though it’s not perfect.
Even though we feel like there are a million things that we have not managed to complete yet that we thought would be done two months ago.
Even though we have months of work to do before we will have a sense of completion around our vision.
Conversation is the cornerstone of our business. Our party is a chance for you to join the conversation about our health as a community.
Come celebrate our new beginning and re-imagine what corners you will seek to turn this year to make your life a little better.
Let’s get this year started off right!
© 2012 The Boxcar Grocer.