Minding the Store: A Big Story About a Small Business

Algonquin Books  2018

 

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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