Monday, December 12, 2005

Post Script: Ten Things Sine Quibus Non

The last of the "Top Ten" lists (at least for now): These are the things that make my shop possible. I mean that in the most basic sense, and without exaggeration: change any one of these, and I’m pretty sure the whole house of cards would come crashing down. There aren’t ten of them, because I’m not going to stretch to fill a quota. These are bedrock, these are fundamental, and I’ll bet they’re not the things you’d have guessed.

1. Low rent Think I don’t wish Rosie had more space, higher ceilings, natural light, street-level access for strollers and wheelchairs, and a back room that didn’t flood? Think again. But other locations I’ve investigated would cost literally four times what the rent is here—which would make it impossible to provide enough knowledgeable staff to help everyone, or to take a chance on a strange new yarn that might be a hit or might wind up in the sale basket.

2. My memory Not because I remember customers’ names from year to year (though that’s nice), and not because you can show me a strange instruction and I’ll remember where I saw the technique mentioned ages ago (though that’s convenient, too). I’m talking about remembering suppliers’ phone numbers by heart, remembering all the Manos color numbers and names, remembering how many yards there used to be in a skein of Rowan Designer DK, even though it was discontinued years ago. These are all things that one could look up in a book if one had to—but knowing them off the top of my head saves me time, and makes it possible for me to call in an order from my cell phone while I’m on my way to pick up Diana after school, or pull the skeins for an afghan while I’m answering someone else’s question about where to find a pattern for a baby hat, or calculate how many skeins of Provence you’ll need to knit a sweater from Rowan 18 without having to dig through ancient color cards. If I can’t do all these things fast, I can’t help enough customers in a day to stay afloat.

3. Staff willing to work for nothing The wages at Rosie’s are better than what they might make at McDonald’s (at least, I’m pretty sure they are), but not by much. The people who do the job are not burger-flippers: they’re intelligent, creative, patient, helpful, resourceful, cheerful, and willing to do it all day after day for the pleasure of being near yarn and knitters. It’s one thing for me to decide it’s worthwhile to have a shop, even though I’ll never get rich. It’s quite another for people who don’t own the place. Next time one of them goes outside in the rain to climb through a window into a dirty unfinished basement to dig for one more skein of your first-choice color, thank them for it.

4. Suzanne Almost anyone will tell you that, in a modern, egalitarian marriage, both partners should of course have fulfilling work they love to do. And almost anyone will tell you that, in a modern, egalitarian marriage, neither partner should automatically bear the responsibility for household chores or childcare; nor should the partner making less money be considered to have the less important job. But you don’t see all that many marriages where it actually plays out that way. I’ve got one. Even when I’m barely covering our childcare expenses, Suzanne does more than her share of the house stuff and the kid stuff, and she doesn’t seem to think that’s unfair. She also lets me run the business however I see fit, despite her financial stake in it, and the only thing she’s ever asked is that I should, for the love of Pete, get a business manager. (Speaking of which, Rosie needs a business manager. Anyone qualified should please get in touch. I hope you know who you are, because I really don’t know what the job entails.)

5. Suzanne’s job All Suzanne’s good intentions (see above) wouldn’t go for much if she didn’t have a job that pays the mortgage, and provides us all with health insurance, too.

6. Ed Rendell I’m not kidding. In the fall of 1990 or so, I was mugged at 23rd and Pine at 9:30 on a Thursday evening—and I was with a friend. By late 1995, it didn’t seem crazy to open a business in the neighborhood—even a business with an overwhelmingly female clientele, plenty of evening hours, and limited nearby parking. Our location must be pedestrian-safe for women after dark, and it always has been. When I walk home alone at 10:30 at night, and feel perfectly safe, I think, “If you can do this, thank Mayor Rendell.” He turned it all around.

7. Customers Duh. But seriously, you guys keep it interesting. While there are nights when everyone on the staff goes home wanting not to measure another gauge swatch or figure out wear to store one more bag of Kureyon, what makes it all worthwhile is seeing people do new things, or old things in new ways. And watching a new knitter get it--whether “it” is how short-rows really shape a heel, or what “foll 6 alt rows” means, or that a purl stitch is actually a knit stitch seen from the other side—is really worth more than you can imagine.

8. Camille Spinale She’s our lawyer. It’s not that we get sued so often. But trust me, we wouldn’t be here without her.

8. Jennifer Carpenter Despite our fundamental incompatibility as business partners, I don’t think either of us would be in the yarn business without the other. I wanted to open a shop, but I knew I couldn’t do it by myself, and she was there to take a chance with me. For that, I’ll always be grateful.

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