MOM 'N' POP
1 October 2008
The local paper posted the information that Carousel Stationery & Gifts is closing its doors. It was one of the first stores I remember when we moved here. In fact it was almost one of the first stores I saw when we moved here.
I remember the day clearly. I had been born and raised in San Francisco and moved across the Bay to Berkeley and then to Oakland, so I'd never known anything but living in a big city.
Walt's office moved 80 miles northeast to Davis, closer to the state capitol, which made sense, since they did so much work with the state offices. We had the option of moving with the rest of the fifty famlies who were being relocated, or Walt could look for another job. A couple of guys quit, found new work and stayed in the Bay Area. We moved.
I had never been in Davis before, though I had passed it on the freeway for decades. I would spend part of each summer with Peach's family, who lived in Citrus Heights, about 30 miles beyond Davis. I remember that on that long drive from San Francisco, my sister and I looked forward to getting to Davis because it meant we were almost to Sacramento, which meant we were almost to Citrus Heights. But we never got off the freeway, so on that winter day in 1972, I was actually going into Davis for the very first time.
It was grey, and drizzly and we were at the intersection of 2nd and F Streets, where Carousel Stationery is situated. I kept wondering where "downtown" was -- not realizing I was in the middle of it. The tallest building was only 2 stories tall.
As we settled into town, Carousel and Discoveries became my two favorite stores. Discoveries was where you went to buy that special gift. They had everything from toys (in the basement) to housewares, gourmet foods, greeting cards, that you couldn't find anywhere else, and interesting knick knacks. On the second floor were more adult games (not x-rated games, but things like Trivial Pursuit and games played by adults) and art posters. They did beautiful free gift wrapping and if you attended a gift-giving occasion in Davis, chances were that most of the gifts there would be wrapped at Discoveries.
Carousel was where you went to buy most greeting cards. They had fun tsatskes, office products, and, about the time I was getting into scrapbooking, scrapbook supplies. While most of my "frivolous expenditures" were "miscellaneous sundries at Long's," the second highest frivolous expense each month was usually Carousel Stationery. It's where I bought the ribbons for my typewriter, in the days when I used a typewriter. I bought special paper, the greeting cards I would buy by the dozen, holding them until the right occasion for the right person came along, and boxes of blue envelopes for my daily letters to my friend Phil (in the pre-email days). They had a great assortment of puzzles and I bought many there for my mother, who is a puzzle fanatic.
Discoveries closed after the woman who owned the business for more than thirty years sold it. The new owner didn't understand what made Discoveries special. She moved it to a new location and made it a bigger, brighter, more efficient place, but in doing so it lost its heart (I only went into the new store once and hated it) and the clientele gradually began to drop off and ultimately it closed its doors.
Carousel has been chugging along, but I find that I haven't been in it in years. I now buy my office supplies at the big Office Max on the other side of town -- they have a bigger selection and it costs less. I don't buy greeting cards as much any more either. They used to cost 25 cents and how can cost as much as $5. Most folks have e-mail and I can send an e-card, or make my own on my own computer.
There is a lot of talk about the demise of mom'n'pop stores and the WalMartification of the United States. It many ways I am saddened that stores like Discoveries and Carousel are dying, but in truth, it's a financial luxury to keep locally owned businesses going. When I was much younger, Ifound that there was nowhere in town where I could get something that fit me. This is a physically fit town and there was no "big woman's" store so I had to go to the mall 10 miles away to get clothes. If I could find something that might fit, it cost much, much more than I felt I could spend and I couldn't rationalize the cost.
There was a big discussion in the letters to the editor when Borders Books came into town and it was felt it would put the small local book dealers out of business. And, sadly, it just about did. But an example of why can be seen in a case where a woman I spoke with went to the locally owned store to buy a book written by a local author. The locally owned book store did not carry it, but would be happy to special order it for her...and charge her a fee for the special order. She went to Borders, two blocks away, where the same book was not only in stock, but was on sale.
It's wonderful to have mom'n'pop stores in a small town like this, to keep the unique flavor of a place, but in tough economic times, patronizing local businesses is a luxury a lot of people can't afford, and when the stores themselves make it difficult to shope there, they sometimes participate in their own demise.
Though I don't shop at Carousel any more and realize that I have contributed to the demise of the mom'n'pop store in this town, I will miss knowing that it is there.
MILES TO NOWHERE: 74 miles