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June 2012
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August 2012

Georgia

Well, that was a fast trip. On Monday, my alarm woke me at 3:30 a.m. I made my way to the Dane County airport and then a direct flight to Atlanta, Georgia. On Wednesday around 9:30 p.m., I arrived back home to Madison.

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Ok, that picture is kind of a joke. Because the first thing that struck me about Atlanta was how much art there is. Even the airport is filled with art. Maybe some of this is just big-city envy; a city the size of Madison just doesn't have the corporate bodies to fund such endeavors (vs. Minneapolis with its Target and 3M, Atlanta with Coca Cola and whatever else). Still, it is rewarding to see cities committed to art work.

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It is significantly cheaper, and easier, to travel to Atlanta than it is to travel to New York City. Since a buying trip doesn't particularly allow for time to take in a lot of cultural attractions (which New York certainly has more of), and since a person is going to be spending the bulk of their time in a setting such as this:

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(that's 13 floors times three buildings), it is... seductive... how easy things are in Atlana.  First of all, my door-to-door time itself was much shorter, which meant I could get to the actual work much faster. As soon as I arrived, people were there to help me along my way; the minute I stopped to consult a map, someone was at my side: "can I help you?" The MARTA alone (a $2.50 ride) was so much nicer than a NY taxi cab ride. That said, Georgia is a "right-to-work" state. This never meant much to me before because I was fooled by the words, which really mean more like "right-to-be-fired" to my mind now. Things are cheaper, yes, but that also means labor, and one starts to question a little more what cost comes from the savings that we experienced.

For our particular store, the Craft & Hobby show in Southern California and the New York Stationery show are still valuable trips, but I'm glad that I went to Atlanta.  It will probably remain on our rotation of buying trips. I'm especially glad that I went because this year we just went to San Francisco in the spring and there were no other buying trips planned. I was a little anxious about heading into Christmas without new products. Well, I managed to fix that!

The first day of the show, I concentrated on the temporary exhibits.  Atlana has both permanent showrooms that are open year-round, and temporary exhibits for special shows. Given the volume of vendors, I was anxious about managing to cover all the territory, and with good reason. The first day I was making good time and actually congratulating myself, "I've been training for this my whole life," was something along the lines of my thoughts. I did learn that hours were reduced on Wednesday so even though I planned to spend most of that day at the show, it turned out that I would make alternative plans. And a good thing too. By the end of the second day, I found myself walking aimlessly in circles, trying to find a booth number and getting totally lost. I think my brain was totally fried by that time. Still, I managed to find a range of goodies: jewelry, notecards, wrapping paper, ornaments, albums, stamps, prints, key rings...  There was quite a lot to sift through, much that didn't at all suit our shop, but I was pleased with the variety of independent or fair trade artist creations. Shipping dates range from ASAP to October 1, and our first order already arrived today: Wisconsin dish towels designed by MCAD students in Minnesota, and just featured in the New York Times.

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Since the showrooms closed early, I managed to grab a few hours of sightseeing on Wednesday before my flight left. I went to the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site - didn't tour all the buildings, but was inspired yet again by his words.

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Although the sun was hot and time was short, at the same train stop was the Oakland Cemetery so I spent some time taking pictures and revisting my cemetery angel photo series.

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And then I took the train to Decatur, where I found a most enjoyable shop called HomeGrown Decatur, filled with local Georgia artist works and my favorite sign of the trip:

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And, because it makes a nicer story, let's just wrap things up with my locally-sourced lunch at Leon's in Decatur and leave off the rest of the hot afternoon picking up my luggage and going to the airport, going through security and being sent back because of the girl's snowglobe, waiting for a delayed flight and getting home about two hours later than I thought I would.  Lunch was delicious: camembert, peach compote, pecans and arugula on a crusty French bread, in this cool and charming space. Georgia 062
I think it is unfortunate in our bigger cities that all we have left in our downtowns is office space and chain retail stores, that many small independent stores have been priced out of the market, just as people and neighborhoods have been displaced. I hope that our future of urban planning is a little more just and mindful. I was thankful for the opportunity to hunt down some of indie Georgia since I had a feeling it would be hard to find in downtown Atlanta.


Save Our Sandwich (board)

Sign

After a somewhat stressful/emotional day, I woke up early this morning with a plan. and a request. Action always helps. I was reminded yesterday that we do not live in a dictatorship and there are options available to me. I'd love to enlist your help. There are three simple actions: 1) Writing the City Alders. 2) Writing the Mayor. 3) Attending a public meeting on July 31. If you pick just one action, writing the Alders (a relatively simple task, I think), would be doing a lot to help.

And no, this doesn't just apply to Madison residents. If you like your State Street shopping experience (or, if there are other things you like less than sandwich boards about your experience), if you are a friend of Anthology and other small businesses, we appreciate your support.

Here's the story, as short as I can get it. Mayor Soglin (of Madison) has begun a "sign code enforcement initiative." In essence, he finds sandwich boards and other signage unsightly, he particularly thinks State Street looks "honky tonk" (his words, not mine), he believes the public has weighed in on what they want State Street to look like, and he is doing his job in enforcing state statutes.

There IS a state law on the books that regulates signage in the public right-of-way. Because of the unique nature of State Street, everything from the outer edge of our building to the outer edge of the Overture Center is in the right-of-way. However, should enforcement proceed, this will affect all businesses around Madison who put sandwich boards in the public right-of-way. We aren't the only store in violation. I am pretty sure that other cities around the state have found ways to regulate within the spirit of the law, and yet still allow small businesses this simple method of communicating with their customers.

We certainly want to uphold the spirit of the law - which is to reduce traffic hazards and comply with disability accessibility laws, even that vague idea of preserving the aesthetics of an unadvertised landscape. We make every effort to keep our sandwich board on the far side of the sidewalk by the tree - presumably a space that no one will be passing through. We keep the walkway along the edge of our building clear. We bought what we think is a simple sandwich board which is not unsightly or out of character with our shop. We would be happy to work with the city, as has been done elsewhere in the state, to develop some guidelines and a permitting process so that egregious violations can be dealt with. The building edges must be kept clear for sight-impaired, and the walkway needs to be wide enough for double-wide strollers and wheelchairs. Clearly we want State Street to be an enjoyable experience for everyone, as much as it is impossible to actually please everyone.

However, the letter of the law means that we cannot have a sandwich board outside our shop. At all. We haven't had the time to sit and observe people for an entire day, but every single day, we watch people walk by without looking at our store at all and have people tell us that they've passed us by for years without stopping. I would easily estimate that 20% of our customers are propelled inside by our sandwich board. I don't know about other businesses, but a 20% drop is not something we can afford. Every single day, someone walks by, spots our sandwich board first and then takes the next step of actually stopping in our store. From our perspective, our sandwich board is a valuable part of our business marketing. There was a recent Cap Times article by Paul Fanlund which dismissed this issue as a "triviality" but we feel strongly that removing our sandwich board is no trivial matter and will have a negative effect on our business. There are many things on State Street that are also impediments: outdoor cafes, trees, planters, benches, bicycle racks, bus shelters, trash cans, large groups of slow moving people. All of these are critical to the function of the street.  Naturally, we are biased, but we believe that the function of the street is also about unique, independent stores and restaurants, for which the sandwich board is an essential tool.

Advertising campaigns cost hundreds or thousands of dollars; if you are the Gap, they cost hundreds OF thousands of dollars.  As a small business, we do not have those kinds of resources. Our sandwich board is a simple way to communicate with people; and for those who look more to words than to product displays, it is an effective complement to our store windows. For those who have never heard of Anthology, "we have brat and cheese curd t-shirts" are often just the words needed to give them the push to come and check us out. The immediacy, proximity and changeability of our sandwich board are all valuable qualities that cannot be replicated.

There is a word I cannot think of, for when two bodies of water come together, not really a tidal zone, but perhaps that's as close as I'll get this morning.  For better, and worse, that's what State Street is like. It is a place for a diverse group of people from many places and economic backgrounds to meet and mix. Its strength and uniqueness comes from these many people, and it comes from the variety of interesting businesses they create. It is not a sterile or sanitized place; perhaps it makes some uncomfortable that they don't quite know what to expect, but I believe that more of us would be bored and uninterested if we knew exactly what to expect (Gap, cell phone stores and assorted other large national brands). Obviously, we do not want aggressive or inebriated behavior, and street musicians and uninteresting window displays drive me as crazy as sandwich boards apparently aggravate the Mayor. Nonetheless, we feel that some of the "honky tonk" character of State Street is innate and is just part of what it should be.

[Update: sheesh, it is apparent that I have strayed very far from my scientific roots. However, I have enough people in my life whose vocabulary didn't fail them.  Thanks, Michael and Esteban.  Yes, ESTUARY is the word that I was looking for.  Wikipedia says "Estuaries form a transition zone between river environments and ocean environments and are subject to both marine influences, such as tides, waves, and the influx of saline water; and riverine influences, such as flows of fresh water and sediment. The inflow of both seawater and freshwater provide high levels of nutrients in both the water column and sediment, making estuaries among the most productive natural habitats in the world." So I was at least thinking about the right metaphor even if I couldn't think of the word for it. ]

We really hope that the City of Madison can find a way to work with its small businesses. Everyone always talks about the value of small business to communities - as job creators, as economic engines, yet we often find that the talk, on the state and federal government paperwork level, is not backed up by action. If, indeed, we are valuable to the City of Madison, we would appreciate the opportunity to work with officials to GROW our business.  Removing our sandwich board will not help.

Well, as usual, that got long. I thought of creating one of those letter templates so you could just cut, paste, send.  From our perspective, the main gist is that the sign enforcement initiative will hurt our business and seems to run counter to what we think the public wants of State Street: a street of lively and interesting independent businesses.

We would greatly appreciate your support in this matter.  As I mentioned initially, there are three simple actions, and the simplest one (#1) is probably the one that is the most effective:

1. Write the City Alders at allalders@cityofmadison.com. Whether you are a city of Madison resident, or someone who is a friend of small business or who shops on State Street, we'd love for them to hear from many people about the value of small businesses (and the ways that small businesses communicate with their customers). Not incidentally, we also think that there are more pressing matters that the City should be attending to.

2. Write the Mayor at mayor@cityofmadison.com.  I was at a meeting with him yesterday and felt that his mind was made up. But maybe he just needs a few more letters. He *says* that the public has already spoken on this matter; we believe the public would say otherwise. We feel strongly that one's actions should stem from one's goals. What is the goal for State Street? How does removing our sandwich board accomplish that goal? For that matter, what is the goal for the City of Madison? How does hurting a small business aide in that goal?

3. Attend the public meeting on July 31st.  Anthology will be there, but more people is always better.  The meeting will be held at the Overture Center from 5 - 7 pm.

 

We REALLY appreciate your support of our shop and our efforts to keep growing our business!

 

 

In case you need more information, here are a few links:

Business Signage Informational Meeting
Tuesday, July 31, 5:00 – 7:00 pm
Overture Center, 201 State St., Wisconsin Studio (3rd floor)

Agenda: http://www.cityofmadison.com/clerk/documents/2012/BusinessSignageAg20120731.pdf

We understand that the City will focus on: a) Sandwich boards: The signage code prohibits all business sandwich boards that are in the “public right of way,” i.e., anyplace other than on private property, although this has not been strictly enforced for over a decade. b) Real estate sign violations. c) Illuminated sign violations, including illuminated signs with light backgrounds at night. d) Businesses that have more signage in their window space than the code permits. (Windows are allowed around 20% of the space occupied by advertising, business identiy, flyers for community events, etc.)

“Madison Signage 101: A Primer – Business Signage Approval and Illegal Signage Enforcement 2012” – presentation by City of Madison Department of Planning and Community and Economic Development     http://www.visitdowntownmadison.com/uploads/media/Signs_at_SBAC_6-26-12.pdf

Soglin wants crack-down on illegal business signs Downtown
Read more: http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/govt-and-politics/article_ff8aeea0-bbf1-11e1-a079-0019bb2963f4.html#ixzz1yWxKmiWG


slacking

Oh dear, I haven't been here in a little while.  What can I say? First of all, last week was so darn hot! I didn't feel like doing anything. And I know I shouldn't complain because at least I get to be in the air conditioning while I work. At home I just have a window unit in the living room so I moved out onto the couch to sleep. Which displaced my studio workspace. Not that I was accomplishing anything. I was pretty unproductive. There is a stack of magnet picture frames and blue sky squares. The one blue sky snippet that was supposed to be a placeholder for the summer already sold so I really need to finish up the rest.

I did accomplish one thing: a friend gave me her credit card and a budget and asked me to pick out a package of goodies from our shop.  That was one of the most fun tasks I've had in a while. I assembled a charming ribbon necklace for her, including this charm with her motto:

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Besides that, I lost most of last week to idleness and now this week is almost gone as well. I'm trying to cope with the fact that it is mid-July - we have two big weekends in a row: Art Fair on/off the Square and then Maxwell Street Days.  In between, I'm going to Atlanta on a buying trip, as if there wasn't enough to do. This trip is mostly about finding new things for the store but I'm feeling a little anxious that I haven't done enough preparation. Apparently this show is huge so I'm kind of nervous about covering all the ground. At least I looked at the map earlier this week and figured out there are four floors of rugs so I can skip those floors.

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I did, yesterday, finally clean out and switch around the window. There was some dust and dead bugs to deal with.... I haven't really switched the window since graduation so that is WAY overdue. I went with a market/food/beer/farm/garden theme - we got some great prints from a Portland artist, and there's the popular "very many varieties of beer" print as well as an assortment of food notecards and prings. I like the cheery colors.  I particularly like the new Victory Garden prints.

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Completely unrelated, but my energy has also been taken up with a Blurb book commission for an 80 year-old birthday present. That was close to 30 hours of work over 5 days so I was doing very little else. Also, for those who live in Madison, I don't know if you've heard, but the Mayor hates sandwich boards and generally thinks that State Street looks "honky tonk" (an expression that was rather offensive to me considering how much time I put into making the store look cute and charming and colorful and attractive).  Signs in the public right of way are illegal - that's a state law - but not often enforced at the city level (or, as in cities like Oshkosh, circumvented with local permitting processes that allow businesses to have sandwich boards with some restrictions).  The Mayor would enforce the law and, given the structure of State Street (all right-of-way), require all sandwich boards removed.  On the city-wide level, if you are a business with a sign in the public right-of-way, that affects you too (I don't think we are the only ones in violation). We find our sandwich board quite useful - as a small business, it is a cheap and easy way to communicate with people about our store, and often serves as a little push to get people in the door.  We are concerned that its absence would have an effect on our ability to stay open, so we're feeling a little threatened, which is never pleasant, and have been spending a fair amount of time on letter-writing and meetings. (and if you live in Madison and feel like sending your Alder an email, please feel free to chime in ;)(allalders@cityofmadison.com))

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In more pleasant preoccupations, summer is birthday season in our extended family so there's been a lot of cake-eating and party planning. The girl and I enjoyed a trip to Vanilla Bean to find decorations for her dad's cake:

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Summer is also mostly about tourist season so we've been enjoying a steady stream of newcomers (even if that means we are having to explain state politics a little more than usual). The t-shirts have definitely been a popular addition to our mix. That would be an example of listening to your customers even if it took me a year to respond to their repeated requests. Other new arrivals include our custom Wisconsin shot glassses, fun animal wrapping papers, more note cards, notebooks....  I printed some Madison photographs for the shop and Sachi has been busy in the notecard realm: making heart balloon and library card notes.

 
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Oh, and the girl wanted to be sure that I showed you the mermaid stamp.
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And yes, we have some 2013 calendars. There are still others coming in from other artists - perhaps in a month we will have the full assortment. But we sure do love the graphic design in the ones that have already arrived.

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We will have some items on sale for Maxwell Street Days. We'll have our studio garage sale outside on Friday and Saturday (while supplies last, and only those two days). Buy a bag for $5 and fill it whatever crafty randomness you like. I've cleaned out some more fabric scraps from my studio and we have those precious library catalog cards which I'm quite sure would be a cool element in a collage or some such project. Inside, we'll have some sale merchandise on the back table. Just a reminder, most of our work is on consignment and already, in our opinion, a great deal, so, no, the entire store is not on sale (believe me, someone will ask - I've been doing Maxwell Street Days for about 14 years now and someone asks every. single. year.).

We hope that you are managing to stay cool and hydrated this summer, and maybe even getting away to the beach every once in a while.

 
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