Once upon a time, I was the owner of an independent bookstore. It had been a life-long dream and though I had three boys that were still very young, the opportunity arose and well…you know what they say. It turned out to be one of the best times of my life, eight years of living and breathing books. As someone who grew up immersing her face in the bindings of old books and breathing deeply, owning a bookstore was its own special nirvana. Placing a key in the door at Tree House Books every morning, inhaling that particular scent of pulp, walking through the quiet store, turning on lights, scanning the landscape of shelves upon shelves stuffed with words; it never got old. I can still get pretty nostalgic about the whole thing.
I received many gifts while operating the bookstore. Getting to know the people who lived in my community by name, knowing what their favorite books were, getting to know their kids and grandkids. Sharing stories about marriages, travels, successes, illnesses, death. The bookstore was a connector, a place where boundaries receded and stories were told, laughter abounded, tears shed. Kids ran wild, poets spoke, authors resonated. We laughed at Chet the chinchilla’s weekly escape, Icarus the lovebird’s constant demand for attention, and our bunnies’ prodigious mess. We bemoaned the salt water fish tank that cost an arm & a leg to keep running but watching kids press their nose against the glass yelling, “Nemo! Mommy, it’s Nemo” kept me paying that bill.
I also got to know my fellow business owners well. I saw passion and dedication in each of their stories. Showing up to open their store in the dead of winter, getting through the tough months, celebrating the busy times and complaining about the bad ones.
In 2006, a group of those business owners and myself started the Lakeshore Independent Business Alliance (LIBA). It was tough economic times and there was a national movement afoot. Buy Local campaigns were sprouting up around the country and a few of us thought the Holland area was ripe for the message. We believed in the specialness of our community and knew that we needed to keep these moms & pops, these small local businesses, open during this downturn. We wanted to spread the word that shopping local kept money in the community and kept your neighbors in business. It was a message about community and supporting the hard working people who live next door to you, who chose to follow dreams and do the hard work of being an independent business owner. No access to corporate funds for marketing. No national purse strings. These people go to church here, shop here, eat here. They donate dollars and merchandise to countless fundraisers. In essence they were the lifeblood, the beating heart. I knew this because I worked among them and saw their dedication firsthand.
Lakeshore Independent Business Alliance (LIBA) grew over the years to 120 businesses along the lakeshore and the message took root. I have now transitioned from owning a bookstore to supporting and advocating for those business owners whom I admire and respect. When LIBA merged with Local First last year, I became the Lakeshore Membership Coordinator. Working for Local First allows me to continue to work in my community and build relationships with the passionate people who bring color and variety to our world. In a sense, I am still back in that bookstore, talking to people about their dreams and sharing in their excitement. For me, there is no better job.