Mind­ing the Store: A Big Sto­ry About a Small Business

Julie Gaines

Illus­trat­ed by Ben Lenovitz

  • Review
By – January 21, 2019

Fishs Eddy is the epit­o­me of the Amer­i­can Dream. A store spe­cial­iz­ing in antique dish­ware and home goods, born from the minds of ambi­tious entre­pre­neurs, became part of the bustling fab­ric of New York City life. The sto­ry of Fishs Eddy is one of sac­ri­fice, fam­i­ly, per­spi­cac­i­ty, and, ulti­mate­ly, the dri­ve to ful­fill a dream. It’s a tale that every­one can relate to in the abstract and one that is all the more engag­ing to see unfold in the pages of this charm­ing graph­ic memoir.

At its core, Mind­ing the Store is about fam­i­ly and the insep­a­ra­ble link­age between the ideals that shape us and the real­i­ties that we must nav­i­gate. The sto­ry, as told by Fishs Eddy co-founder Julie Gaines, is straight­for­ward and sim­ple, yet pro­found. Gaines recounts her family’s cir­cuitous route to suc­cess by way of turn­ing some­one else’s trash (in this case, sur­plus dish­ware) into untapped trea­sure. The read­er fol­lows the arc of a bloom­ing empire — from the unsteady first years of debt, to steady suc­cess, to block­buster sales, to their role as out-of-their-league CEOs con­tend­ing with the after-effects of 9/11 and a reces­sion or two — until final­ly, after decades of hard work, a last­ing lega­cy is secured.

Gaines dis­pens­es wry obser­va­tions, many of them per­me­at­ed with Jew­ish­ness (“Dave annoyed his moth­er so much that she bought him a one-way tick­et to any­where…”), that work in tan­dem with her gen­er­al life lessons that have noth­ing to do with the cap­i­tal­ist ide­al of an emo­tion­less, mon­ey mak­ing machine. Sell­ing sec­ond­hand plates and dish­es isn’t even the point; pre­serv­ing the crafts­man­ship and atti­tude of a bygone era is.

Gaines’s expe­ri­ences are relat­able even for those with­out a drop of busi­ness savvy in their bones. Fol­low­ing the twists and turns of how this Jew­ish fam­i­ly took what many saw as rub­bish and turned it into a thriv­ing busi­ness is end­less­ly fas­ci­nat­ing. Read­ing these anec­dotes reminds us how often mas­sive cor­po­ra­tions desen­si­tize us to the beat­ing heart of the Amer­i­can entre­pre­neur. Gaines’s gift here is show­ing the fol­lies of hav­ing any cer­tain­ty about tomor­row, or let­ting des­tiny alone guide one’s future.

Sup­port­ing Gaines’s words is the sim­ple, almost child­like art of Ben Lenovitz, Gaines’s son. While the illus­tra­tions are far from pol­ished, they have an unde­mand­ing panache rem­i­nis­cent of Amer­i­can folk art. There is a nat­ur­al feel here, as if this were a fam­i­ly album meant only for a lim­it­ed num­ber of readers.

Over­all, what makes Mind­ing the Store a sin­gu­lar work is that it sheds all pre­ten­sion and speaks straight to the soul of what makes small busi­ness­es essen­tial to the vital­i­ty of our com­mu­ni­ties. Whether in New York City or a small town in the mid­dle of nowhere, the abil­i­ty to cre­ate out­lets for inno­va­tion is essen­tial. Mind­ing the Store is not mere­ly a mem­oir. It is also a glimpse into a family’s pow­er­ful stand against medi­oc­rity and the mun­dane, and a seri­ous con­tri­bu­tion to the lore of the Amer­i­can work­er and dreamer.

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