500 Words About: Being a Shopkeep


I own a little retail shop. It's something I've dreamed about all my life, but it's not a goal I thought was attainable. Then suddenly, it made sense. It was a logical next step for my stationery business. I opened a shop. I picked out products and fell in love with seeing them carefully laid out together. I sketched out display furniture and my dad built it with love. I figured out the hours, hired helpers, set prices, tried new things. After being open for more than 2 years so far, there are far more than 500 words I could write about my little shop. Today I want to talk about the unexpected human moments that happen in the shop.

A woman came in to buy an "Infertility is the Worst" card for her friend. She came back the next week to make an exchange - after years of waiting, it was time to buy a "Babies are Awesome" card for her friend.

We've had sober conversations with customers about impossibly hard situations. What card do you buy when your friend's child commits suicide? What do write in a card for a family member whose cancer came back?

We've also been included in celebrations of freshly cancer-free news.

We've helped with many covert shopping operations, sneaking cards and jewelry behind the counter so the person with them won't see and ruin the surprise.

Once, someone used our "Will You Marry Me" card to get engaged.

We've helped deep sea fishermen pick out cards to leave behind for their sweethearts.

I've talked shop with the daughters and sons of lifelong letterpress printers - the kids who grew up with the smell of ink, and speak of it with reverence.

I've experienced the joy of seeing the items I picked out for the shop find the perfect people to appreciate them.

I've had many deep conversations with strangers about life, parenthood, marriage and the future of our country. I've had a lot of conversations about cats and puppies and Sounders FC too.

I've run into old friends in the shop, meeting their kids, hearing about their lives.

There have been bad moments too. Rude, cruel interactions. People lashing out. Racist and sexist comments hurled. People sharing strong negative opinions about everything under the sun. (It is still retail, after all.) I can get hardened and afraid to be open in the shop. It's my happy place, but I can only control the environment so much. One truly awful interaction in a day, and I feel like the magic has left the place. But the magic always comes back. The love shared here greatly exceeds the other stuff.

I've gotten to know people deeply in this place. I've chosen and crafted and arranged small things with love to make people feel a little bit of joy. And it's worked.

Today, an old friend came into the shop and we made some small talk. And then she shared some incredibly hard news about her life. We hugged and cried. I don't know her well, but this is a safe place for hearts on sleeves. This is a place that you can come and feel momentary comfort. This is a good place, and I'm proud that it's mine.

Sara McNallyComment