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October 2014
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December 2014

week 4

I'm gradually checking things off my list for the holidays, though the big one (writing my Christmas letter, is still undone. At this point, I'm thinking it might be a New Year letter. I'm still having trouble getting started because I'm mostly just grumpy about the election results).

As far as the store is concerned, holiday shopping has definitely picked up, though there are many, usually men, who are still "just looking." If only I could record what they actually looked at so that I could be more helpful when they come back in a few weeks. Happily, a customer came in with a cell phone picture of the necklace that his wife wanted him to buy for her. That was convenient! We have about two more shipments coming in but we're really winding down and trying to attend to other tasks, like dusting, and that neglected paperwork.

Anyway, here's the 5 for this week:

1. Wisconsin jewelry. New this year are the vintage-y charms that look like they came off of someone's travel charm bracelet, and the Wisconsin pins and necklaces cut from book covers. Oh, and the sweet aluminum and wood combo from a Milwaukee artist. And, of course, our very popular mini Wisconsin charm that comes in a variety of combinations.

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2. Stamps. I am particularly fond of the carved wood stamp blocks that come from India by way of Scandinavian designers. They would be really cool for stamping on the hem of a skirt or envelopes/stationery.

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3. Accessories. We have an assortment of mostly scarves (some armwarmers and hair clips). New this year are the comfy infinity scarves in soft knits. They come in an assortment of colors though the yellow is becoming my favorite, especially in combination with the shades of gray of the chrysanthemum. 20 years ago, yellow was definitely not on my favorite color list - it is surprising and not a little insidious the way the fashion industry works its guiles.

 

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4. Boxed notes. Is this just because we're paper people? We regularly give our Mom boxed notes for a Christmas gift even if it means she's not using them until the following year (or sending them out late). We've got a great assortment this year, including Laura- and Sachi- original designs.

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5. Beer, Rap Names, SuperPowers and Baseball Teams prints. I know, I had prints in last week's post. But I wanted to specifically mention these prints because sometimes it seems like it is hard to find gifts for guys and you should know that these prints always grab their attention. You know those little stations of toys to occupy children while their mothers are shopping? I feel like these prints work for the bored male shopping companion.

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And finally, I decided upon our holiday ad campaign... well, the Facebook version of it. Unfortunately the world of advertising deadlines means that I have to decide products way ahead of time, sometimes before I even have the fullness of our merchandise decided upon. We were able to put Sachi's lil cheese curd onesie into a couple publications, and we appreciate the Isthmus shout-out in this week's Giving Guide (which is also a great resource for me to figure out our non-profit donations for the year). At least with Facebook, I can throw something up at the last minute - not that I'm being careless, but the nature of my retail life means a lot of change and uncertainty and the need to be flexible about many such things.  I'll be going with a series of our customer overheards which always make me happy.

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5 weeks of Christmas

All right, I just made up my mind. In previous years, I think I've done 12 days of Christmas? or 25 days of December? counting down to December 25th with an assortment of gift suggestions. I'm going to condense it a little bit and present you with one post a week - 5 suggestions every week of 5 - with some highlights of our favorite gift ideas. Instead of a theme for each post, I'll just try to have a smattering (oh, I hardly ever get to use that word!) across the various categories, some of our favorites and best-sellers from the year.

I don't know if it is better to count down or count up... I think count down. So, here we go with week five. Several customers (mostly men) have been stopping in "just looking around" and, sure, there's plenty of time... Can you hear the stress in my fingers when I type that?

Anyway, here you go:

Besides the items in the previous post which are liable to sell out early, which, I believe, indicates their popularity (alphabet books, WI/MN hugging t-shirts, words on wooden lath...):

1. The things which, in all honesty, I really just purchased for myself but which have been popular with several other people: bright fun chew beads meant to be worn around teething babies but which are tempting on their own, lovely French linens, knee socks (I have a huge collection of knee socks but have been really impressed with this particular company: the patterns are fun and the quality of the scok is high).

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2. Prints. I know that art seems like a tricky thing to buy for other people sometimes, but many people seem very happy with our selection. I thought I'd share an assortment but now that I see the picture, I feel a little embarrassed to put anything next to Amos Kennedy Prints. His work is so amazing. And SUCH a bargain! We have lots of inspiring quotations as well as several souvenir Madison/Wisconsin prints, including the very popular Farmer's Market prints in case you missed picking one up this summer.

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3. Calendars. I'm posting this category early because we do tend to sell out of these. Classically, last year we got lots of planners and everyone was asking for write-on calendars. This year, we got lots of write-on calendars and now the planners are almost gone. But we do still have a nice selection of great designs from a variety of aritsts around the country. We usually get our mom a calendar for Christmas and our part-timer points out that it is nice to have something artsy which changes every month.

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4. Ornaments. To be honest, I'm still figuring out this category. This year's selection leans a little heavily on the imported end of things. Pictured: Sachi's latest little embroidered Wisconsin hoops. So cute! I have a feeling these will go fast. We also have Sachi's stitched Wisconsins, ceramic Wisconsins made in Madison, mini stitched Wisconsins made in Minnesota, and cut out wood Wisconsins and Madison skylines made in Spring Green, Wisconsin.

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5. T-shirts. "Midwest is Best" remains one of our most popular designs. Available in assorted sizes, including blue hearts for men.

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I know you don't want to hear this

But I just received an email from a vendor about Valentine cards.

Also, there are 5 Saturdays left before Christmas.

Now, personally, I feel like we've gathered a great selection of items for your gift-giving needs this year. I'm feeling somewhat stressed out about the volume of sales that needs to occur, not to mention the vagaries of Mother Nature. I'm also feeling stressed out about things that might sell out and things that might not sell. It pains me greatly when someone is sent to the store to buy a gift for someone and whatever it was has sold out. Luckily, one part-timer informs me that I am pleasant in my stress. My sister might beg to differ.

To some extent, this is the time that we have spent all year preparing for. To some extent, it is a month like any other (well, except for being like two months crammed into one).

Anyway, I know that some people are wanting to enjoy their Thanksgiving week without any thought of the holidays. I guess you can blame it on the pilgrims who choose to give thanks so close to the pagan solstice celebrations (because, really, no matter how the "war on Christmas" gets hyped, let's remember, this is a pagan celebration of the end of the days getting progressively shorter - and what a wonderful thing to celebrate).

I've got the holiday section set up towards the back of the store and even though phase one of the holiday window is in, I hope you will find it suitably celebratory AND subtle. I went with a celestial theme, playing off the poem Wynken, Blynken and Nod, and thus bringing in a little oceanic element as well. Lovely shades of blues and golds with some purple... .one of my favorites (never mind the passerby who told me on the Sunday night of installation that what the window really needed was some red and green flowers all around the edge, "for Christmas, you know.")

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We have a great selection of boxed notes (which will be on sale for 25% off over Thanksgiving weekend) and a nice array of ornaments. Sachi is still busy sewing her felt Wisconsins which, if I am going to be the nagging big sister, she has not been sewing enough of during the rest of the year. I completely rearranged the wrapping paper to make room for the holiday wrap, and am gradually crunching and filling in the ornament table. Most everything is represented at this point.

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Which brings me to the actual topic of this blog post. Every year, in fact, every week, someone stops in the store and tells me that they saw something a while ago and now we don't have it. Sad face. As I mentioned, I've been preparing for this the whole year, but nothing can prepare me precisely for what will be the best sellers and what will not. If I were a better shopgirl, I would have more of some things and less of others but if you think you are running out of time for shopping, imagine how I feel when normally an artist tells me they need 2-5 weeks to fill an order. SO, we are close to that point of "you git what you git and you don't make a fit." I don't know how it works in the larger corporate retail world, but we have about two more shipments coming in and then the store will be at its point of maximum selection (just before Thanksgiving) and it is all downhill from there. And, let's face it, we have to count the entire store in January so, no, we don't want things to last. We WANT them to sell out. There, I said it. I'm sorry. Of course, I would like them to sell out after you get whatever it is you've been planning to buy all year long.

But, really? Maybe come in sooner rather than later?

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This set of boxed notes looks to be the first ones that will sell out. It is not just because we are daughters of a librarian that this makes us happy. And, as I mentioned, there are still plenty of other boxed notes to choose from.

I should mention my personal bias since I tend to buy presents throughout the year when I see them and am definitely not in the mood the last week before Christmas to brave the shopping throngs. My gifts are on shelf which is a little bit out of the girl's reach but I think she's getting an inkling that it is the present shelf. I'll have to find a better hiding place next year. Anyway, I know, there are those among you who will start the shopping on the 20th of December, who will be happy to leave it up to fate to determine what your gifts will be. Ok, just typing that stresses me out!

Anyway, here's a sampling of some of the goods we have which are not going to last too long, especially if you are talking about very specific details (for example, I do expect to have plenty of book page quotations for you to choose from but if there is a particular saying you want, now is the time for best selection). You can certainly ask because there might be some stored away on a shelf that just haven't been restocking, but, yes, we are out of time for ordering. And the next big flurry of orders will not occur until after things have thawed, sometime in April.

1. alphabet books. Honestly, I don't know what it is about these guys. It seems like every time I place an order, there's a certain letter (always changing) which we have plenty of so I don't reorder, yet by the time the order arrives, that letter is sold out. I believe that J is already gone, even though we have plenty of A, K, M and S.

 

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2. tobacco wall boards with quotations. Something I probably should have ordered thousands of but am lacking storage space. We just got a big shipment of the square 10x10 shape but sold about 8 over the weekend. The narrow rectangle is not currently available.

 

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3. Wi/Mn t-shirts. Seriously, if I could get the artist to quit her day job and just print t-shirts for me, I would. Except that one store is really enough to propel such an action, even though we haven't been able to keep up with demand since we started carrying them. Chalk this one up to one shopgirl not having as much control over the rest of the world as she would like. We have one more shipment coming in before the holidays but if you see the size you want, you should get it.

4. Sachi's felt Wisconsin ornament. If this year is like any of the prior years, she will be sewing at the cash register while a customer is waiting for her to finish up the ornament so they can take it home.

well, that list wasn't as bad as I thought it would be! Those are items from our top 20 of the year to date.  And, as I said, if you aren't attached to a very specific item, I do think that you'll have no trouble at all finding just the right gift for whomever is on your list. There are many additional vagaries of t-shirt ordering which I haven't yet mastered which means that there will be t-shirts to choose from in a variety of sizes but a specific design may well be sold out. There were little stamped silver necklaces that I expected would sell only at Christmas but which we have only two left of. The list goes on.

Of course, most of my job is persuading you to purchase the items that I have in the store. The rest of the season will involve more suitable posts with gift suggestions and some of our favorites. But I felt the need to give a little bit of warning and apology.  Though I have a feeling that will not prevent someone from coming in on Christmas eve, asking about something they saw in August.

We do have plenty of lil cheese curd onesies though.

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and so it begins

Part 1 of the holiday window is going in tonight. I think I have about 6 windows worth of merch to cram into our small window so I'm going to have to switch some things around. Which is fine because a window shouldn't stay the same between now and December 26th. That's just too long. I'm feeling a little bit scattered because I have a few different themes going on but it will all work itself out just as soon as I can start the actual arranging. Then I can start the narrowing process. I've been enjoying all the folded/fan/circle paper installations I've seen around - what are those called? medallions? Anyway, I'm going to add a few of those into the window as examples of things to make with our papers, as well as some embroidery hoops with our papers in them for decor. So far I'm thinking that the little panel on the side will be the circle-paper-decor section. And after that? Well, the loose theme is from the poem Wynken, Blynken and Nod - something about sailing and the night sky, a little bit of zodiac action, plus Wisconsin (as is getting to be usual), blues, purples, golds and silvers. So, yeah, no problem. It is possible that there will have to be some sort of transition - maybe start with just the star theme and then add the ocean in later? But I'm anxious to put those cute narwhal ornaments out. Hmm. Should be an interesting night.

 

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Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night
   Sailed off in a wooden shoe,—
Sailed on a river of crystal light
   Into a sea of dew.
“Where are you going, and what do you wish?”
   The old moon asked the three.
“We have come to fish for the herring-fish
   That live in this beautiful sea;
   Nets of silver and gold have we,"
            Said Wynken,
            Blynken,
            And Nod.

well, darn

So that was a really discouraging night last night. Election results called Scott Walker the winner really early on (illogically so in my opinion) and even though we held out hope for some late reportings, the best we could end up with was his lead narrowed down to 4% of registered voters. When I first tuned in (around 9 pm) and he had over 62% of the vote, I will tell you, quite honestly, I WAS ready to wash my hands of this state.  Of course, whatever reasons propel me to leave Wisconsin would also propel me to leave this country. Am I really ready to live in Toronto?

I still feel like I am on the verge of tears, as I felt when I cast my vote, when we ate dinner and toasted the state we love, as I probably will be throughout the next day/week/months when I have to be a cheerful and brave shopgirl. My heart hurts for the state, and I don't see Walker doing a lot to alleviate that. In my dream last night I went on an angry tirade at an old school friend so, yes, I am feeling mad as well. I am frustrated on both the state and the national level that people seem to be making choices based on fear and anger that only reinforce their situation. You want a better life for your children so you vote Republican? I just don't get it.

But here's what I am coming back to. And, yes, some of these are cheesy, we take our comfort where we can.

1. Do you ever remember the movie "Strictly Ballroom"? It was a cheesy movie back from the 90s, from my days of ballroom dance obsession. Anyway, there's some line in there about a life lived in fear is a life half lived. This is my underlying problem with the Tea Party and with much of what is going on around our country: it seems like people are living in fear and anger, that comes with a deep pain of dissatisfaction and frustration in their own lives. In my own opinion, they are directing that fear and anger at the wrong source (and purposefully being led by the actual sources of their pain and poverty to said misdirection). And, of course, we all have fear and pain and disappointment and sorrow. I do not at all mean to dismiss those feelings. I have very real concerns for this state with another four years of Walker (not to mention Vos and Fitzgerald et al). I'm worried about the environment, I'm worried about my customers' take-home pay, I'm worried about school children, I'm worried about the level of vitriol that Walker seems to encourage. I'm worried that all those years of thinking we're so much better than Alabama/Mississippi/Florida is now being paid back in spades as the rest of the country says "what is going on with Wisconsin?! It used to be so great!" Oh, the list goes on. It is so easy to give in to those fears and angers, isn't it? But I'm going to be like that little grandma in "Strictly Ballroom" who says, "you just got to not be scared." I am going to try and take a deep breath and live my loves and my hopes.

This is one of my favorite pieces of text. I find I'm returning to it a lot these days and can tell I will continue to do so:

An old man is teaching his grandson about life. "A fight is going on inside me," he said to the boy. "It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil - he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego." He continued, "The other is good - he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you - and inside every other person, too." The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"

The old man simply replied, "The one you feed."

(I just found out I've been misattributing this to an old Cherokee legend and it turns out it is an old white man (Billy Graham) who originated it. The most irksome thing to me is there are people who call themselves Christian, who probably consider Billy Graham a revered elder, and yet are one of the biggest sources of the hate and fear that I see in this country. But I still think the words are valuable.)

2. Viggo Mortensen, Lord of the Rings. "There's always hope." Hey, whoever your Viggo is, spend some time with him/her. It helps.

3. Back during the protests, customers came from all over the country. A memorable pair came from Illinois and one of them said to me: "I hope your Governor gets what our Governor got: an orange suit." So, yes, there's always that. I expect that Walker will run for President, I don't really expect that he's going to make it through the national spotlight but, golly, let's just savor the thought of something really unsavory and totally illegal coming to light that lands him some prison time, shall we? We take our comforts where we can.

Is it wrong that some of my comforts are fictional? All right, I'll throw some math in.

4. Scott Walker won because of 4% of registered voters. This was not "sweeping" or "decisive" no matter what any pundit says. In the world of math, 4% is usually margin of error. It is not enough to write off an entire state. 30% of registered voters did not vote. That is maddening. I read recently that non-voters tend not to be a representative sample of the population and that they skew Democratic so it is entirely possible that if 10% more had voted, the election could have gone the way I wanted it to. Was this supposed to be comforting? The comfort is that unlike last time, Scott Walker did get 37% of registered voters to vote for him. Last time, fewer people voted for Scott Walker than declined to vote. As a friend said, she can hear the rest of the state saying: "yes, Madison, we really DO want him for Governor." Well, I can hear 37% of the state saying that, and I guess that's not enough to make me leave.

In fact, the more that I think about that, the more comforting it is. 37%? Does that really seem like much? Would I be content if 37% of my customers liked me? I think I'd want more. Granted, I'm pretty sure that Scott Walker translates the math differently and will look upon this election as his "mandate" to go forth and do evil, but, really, 37%.

5. The pendulum. It exists, right? At some point things have to start swinging in the other direction? Wisconsin had McCarthy, we had LaFollette. We have Walker, Johnson, Ryan and Grothman - surely we must be reaching the lowest we can possibly go? The robber barons of the 19th century aren't on a continual line to the present, right? We had a time of expanding social protections, a contract as it was, and people understood that their wealth and prosperity depended on others. We will get that back, right? Just say yes.

6. When all is said and done, there are only about 5 counties in the whole state with such a high percentage of votes for Scott Walker that I would feel really nervous about visiting with my "blue punch" bumper sticker. I already wait to buy gas 'til I'm in Milwaukee county. I think it is easy in this age of polarization to feel like the enemy is everywhere, but so are friends.

7. Conversely, good job, Dane County! Great turnout, and almost 70% of you voted the way I wanted you to vote. I love this little bubble that I live in and I might never leave it.

8. Strong women at work for this state. In the Capitols: Gwen Moore, Terese Berceau, Chris Taylor and more. In our communities. The Wisconsin Alliance for Women's Health. Planned Parenthood. Our Mom and oh so many other women in our life who show us how to be strong and caring and how to work for a better world for all of our children.

9. When I first awoke and thought, "do I have to move now?" I started thinking about all the things and people I will have to move with me: my parents, my sister and her family, my studio/home, my store, my friends, my church, all the people who have known me since I was a child, all of my history. Seriously, packing up all my art supplies to move is a big enough hurdle as it is. I think I'm staying.

10. You. My customers, this store. Being a medium-sized fish in a medium-sized pond. Having people come up to me in the grocery store and saying: "Hi, Anthology! I love your store!" In this day and age, of course it is possible to keep in touch across geographical distance and it would be possible to move if I had to. But that would mean taking a few steps back from as far as we have come. And, actually, in spite of Scott Walker, business is going well. (No, I will not give him credit. Well, if he gets credit for that, then he has to take responsibility for our higher property tax bill, the payments we have to make because of the money the state borrowed from the feds to pay unemployment, the customers who come and and tell me they wish they could spend more but their paycheck isn't going as far as it used to). Sachi reminds me that we will outlast Walker. He will extract what he can from this state and then he will move on. The shop has grown each year that we've been in business and we are having a particularly strong year this year. Strong enough that the Capitalist in me has only been crabby a few times early in a month before she remembers to check the year to date sales. Strong because of our customers making the choice to support their local businesses, strong because of the amazing creative production of artists and crafters in the Midwest and beyond, strong because of people coming back to visit Wisconsin because they love this place. Strong not because of tax breaks (our taxes went up) or whatever else Scott Walker is doing but strong because of the work and passion of my sister and me, because of love and promise, not because of fear and hate.

So, there you go. I hope you will join me in your gratitudes and loves. Since Walker has been in office, we have sold almost 36,000 buttons. Sachi has said we would gladly give back those sales if it meant having someone in office we didn't have to protest but at the rate things are going, it seems like there would have been things to protest no matter what. Just as the morning after the recall election, when I came to work thinking I would have to clear away the buttons, it turns out there's only a small handful that no longer apply. Most still work, unfortunately, and in spades. Thank goodness for button therapy - idle hands are the devil's playground is no more true than in this situation. Plus, I have a proper selection of cards to suit the occasion.

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