I hope you won't mind if I start a new mini series here. I promise that I will still keep you updated on happenings in the store and our creative lives but I also thought it would be nice to share with you my fondness for downtown Madison. There are many reasons that we decided to open our store here, and there are many other great stores - we think it is worth a visit!
In the past few weeks, Sachi has been attending various city(ish) meetings on matters pertaining to downtown business and a few themes have popped up which are getting aggravating. To be honest, these themes are not new and not exclusive to the people who have brought them up.
My parents moved to Madison when I was about a year old. Although I went away for college, it is fair to say that thirtysomething years have been spent here in Madison. Throughout that time, the downtown has been a part of our lives, even though we grew up on the west side of town. Both of our parents worked for the University, and back in the day, we would take the "G" bus to visit them on campus as well as all the way downtown. I remember craning my head trying to see what a prostitute looked like as we drove by King Street. I remember averting my eyes on one side of the 100 block because that's where the porn store was. I remember the pet store on the 300 block, the fountain at the public library, 35 cent Toots stickers at the Puzzlebox (that was how our Mom paid us to clean our room), hot fudge pound cake sundaes at Ella's after Children's Theater performances.... During that entire time, I'm quite sure there were people who said to our mom: "I can't believe you take your girls downtown!" (insert scary music). To this day, I have a feeling there are people who question her "letting" her girls work downtown. That said, we love downtown Madison. There is nowhere else in the city that we'd rather be. I like to think of the downtown as an intertidal zone - that area where fresh- and salt-water and land come together. It can be a little messy; it can bring you out of your comfort zone but we LIKE the way you can run into all sorts of people. It is likely that you will see a protest if you come down on a weekend; it is possible you will see naked bike riders if you choose that day to come down; it is possibly that someone will ask you for change (just say 'no thank you' and keep walking), you also might see friends and neighbors or people you haven't seen in a while. On a daily basis, I see people from all different countries, of all different ages and races and economic backgrounds and any other sort of pigeonholing you like to do. It means that my assumptions are challenged sometimes, but I also think it makes the world more interesting and is also a more realistic presentation of the world that is rather than some sanitized homogenized world. And it is a substanital improvement over the dullness of my shopgirl life when I first graduated and worked a mind-numbing year in the handbag department of Boston Store at the mall.
So there you have it: we love downtown Madison. We think it is a fun place to work, and the people who live here seem to be having a fun time too. We definitely think it is a fun place to visit and have found many people who agree with us, if the number of out-of-town visitors is any indication. Admit it, when you have out-of-town guests, you think about bringing them downtown - whether to hang out along the lakeshore, go to the Farmer's Market, see the Capitol (a building which I take for granted, but every time I walk through, I do love its grandeur). I'm planning to make this into a series to share with you some of my many downtown delights but before I do that:
FOUR MYTHS AND MISCONCEPTIONS AND OTHER UNNECESSARY NOTIONS
1. "Internet killed retail."
I realize that there is some fine line between being a traditionalist (in a good way) and being completely closed to change which is inevitable. I also realize that there are many different styles of learning and shopping, different schedules and different levels of ability to access places. The internet is convenient in the ways that you can shop at any time of day or night, in the ways that you can compare a zillion different options with the click of a mouse or whatever it is you kids do with your smart phones. With the internet it doesn't matter if it is rainy or snowy or too hot and humid.
That said, there is a very specific reason why we opened a brick & mortar store and not an internet store back in 2008. Those reasons have not changed. Granted, this speaks to our personal style: we are shoppers. Pretty much everywhere we go, throughout most of our lives, we shop. We like to go into stores and look at things. I absolutely cannot purchase clothes or shoes without trying them on and I can make my best decisions by seeing something in person. Our family never has been much for internet shopping and so perhaps it is partly just a matter of a slow internet connection and lack of practice. Ever ordered something online and been disappointed when it arrives? Any disappointment that I've experienced would have been completely avoided if I bought things in person (don't fit, wrong color, smaller than it looked in the pictures, etc. ). Perhaps this also relates to the physical experience of crafting, the link between what is going on in your brain and what your hands are doing, not just what your eyes see on the computer experience. There is definitely a tactile experience... though ideally without buttery popcorn or sticky ice cream fingers.
So, yes, we are biased. But there is something beyond our particular learning style and experiences, it is about how we connect to things and people, about what we would like to see in this world, and it isn't more computer screens. We believe that there are many things which are missed in the online shopping experience. We believe our lives are better for fewer online shopping experiences and more independent local brick & mortars shopping experiences. We even believe in the vagaries of human nature, in being present in each others' lives, even if it means that my pre-lunch crabbiness might not mesh perfectly with your stress about whether or not your mortgage check is going through today or tomorrow. We believe in humans and human interaction.
As you might know from 3/50 and our own Dane Buy Local, we also believe that non online shopping is better for the world and for our communities. Less shipping and packaging, more contributions to community and taxes. In the specific case of Anthology, also more money to local and indendent artists. We, as consumers, have more power than we ever choose to exercise, but I also think that it is to the benefit of ourselves and our community (as well as to the businesses) when we choose to forgo internet shopping and stroll up and down State Street. There are many charming shops, and that will be the focus of subsequent posts. We have been somewhat frustrated of late on our block as a handful of retail spaces have been converted to bars and eateries - there's a limit to how much of that we think is good for the street.
2. "OOOH! ANTHROPOLOGIE!"
All right, I know, I was asking for this one. I specifically selected our store name after going through a list of words related to arts and crafts and other random brainstormed concepts. I did not factor Anthropologie into the equation because I consider it a made-up word and one related to humans as opposed to art. However, one of the first people I told about the name said, "oh, but there's Anthropologie already."
That's ok, I would rather be mistaken for Anthropologie than WalMart. And I remember well enough being a teenager and traveling to Green Bay because that's the closest Gap there was. So perhaps some of this is just a function of many years of shopping, being innundated with what looks the same from one place to the next and finding much greater appreciation for what is different. Because really? The only thing I like about seeing an Anthropologie when I'm traveling is the hope that there might be a Paper Source nearby. And the possibility of some new merchandising inspiration.
How does this relate back to downtown? As I have traveled around the country and around the world, it is one of my great aggravations that the downtowns or prime retail locations of the world are being given over to maximum profit. This usually means chain stores and non-retail. When I go to Paris and Italy, I would have loved nothing more than to find the European version of Anthology. No such luck. And in general, the indie stores seem to be in less accessible locations, places where they can afford the rent. I consider that one of the crimes of property owners against this country, that tenants are picked without consideration for how they work in the larger context of the neighborhood. I think that we as consumers do the world a great disservice when we look just for the national brands and the familiar logos. Are those really the kinds of jobs that we would want? No. I imagine that most people would actually like the idea of owning a store or restaurant of their own - picking out a unique selection of products, having the independence and permission to be creative. Stores such as those currently hold the majority in downtown Madison but that will only last as long as their business model is supported by consumers.
3. "There's no place to park."
All right, I will admit it, most of the time, we take the bus downtown. We find the bus connections really easy and convenient and I love having a little time in the morning to let someone else do the driving. There are a number of easy options for busing - even if there isn't a bus near where you live, you can park and ride. I don't mean the formal Park and Ride.... and I'm giving away my secret here so make sure you leave a spot for me: you can park on the west side of Madison along Odana Road, all day with no time limit, and pick up the #3 bus which conveniently takes you past the charming shops on Monroe Street. So get a transfer and stop there on your way in, why don't you?
Secondly, it is clear that our childhood excursions to Chicago left a mark. I well remember driving into a parking ramp in downtown Chicago where the posted rate was something like $20 for the first half hour. Compared to that, parking in downtown Madison is a bargain. I rarely have trouble finding parking. If I know that there are a lot of events going on, I just go straight to the tall structure behind the Overture Center which, while I have parked on the roof, has never turned me away. During daytime hours, I always park in the structure. I believe that the rate is a little less than the rate of on-street parking but I also don't like the uncertainty of guessing how much time I have to put on the meter and the potential parking-ticket anxiety or the two hour limit, all of which I just skip all together by going to either of the parking structures close to our shop.
Thirdly, if you hate paying for parking, Sundays are always an option. I usually come down on Sunday by 9 am and take a rock star parking spot, but there is plenty of street parking and you don't have to plug the meter. If you come down early, you can have brunch at any number of places and then stroll the street without the Farmer's Market browsers.
Fourthly, the two times that I have gotten into car accidents have been in mall parking lots. I hate those things. I have trouble believing that someone got an advanced degree to design those things because they seem to be an exercise in aggravation. I probably spend about 15 minutes a day driving on average so perhaps these are just things that you get accustomed to, but I would much rather park the car once and stroll to several shops then spend the day getting in and out of the car as my west-side errand days sometimes end up being.
4. "I never get downtown."
That's ok. We do understand. One of the things that we like about downtown Madison is that it is equally in/accessible to everyone. I'm sure there are stores on the west side that east siders never get to, and vice versa. We like the idea of meeting in the middle. Again, like an intertidal zone, there is space for all sorts of people to gather. I find it interesting that in the last 20 years, I have spent time at jobs in various places downtown: first at the DNR on the other side of the square, then at Science Hall on the other end of State Street, and now on the 200 block of State Street. Each time and place came with its own set of habits and places - even though all of those locations would qualify as downtown, I hardly ever get to the stores and restaurants I used to frequent when I was on the Science Hall end. How could I expect someone from either side of town to include us in their typical route? And I don't, really. I think our own circle of living/working/shopping probably ends up being quite small - we have our favorites and our conveniences. And that's fine. But when someone visits Madison from out of town or state or country, downtown is the representative of the city. Most of them will travel the stretch from the Capitol to the Terrace and for many of them, this is all they see. Judging by the Chicagoans who come here for long weekends to stay downtown, and who tell us that there is nothing like Anthology in Chicago (we doubt this, but find it flattering), it is an enjoyable and repeatable experience. We think downtown Madison is a lovely feature of this city - fun stores, delicious restaurants, great museums.
SO, if you haven't been downtown in a while, come on down, why don't you?!