I like to read about “intentional communities ” Most start with a great idea; most never get off the ground or are failures to one degree or another. They fail because it’s very difficult to get even like minded people to agree on everything. In a community like ours it’s even more difficult because of the diversity of politics, religion, philosophies and, most important, economic circumstances. If one is fighting to stay afloat, living from paycheck to paycheck, trying to gain an economic foothold, it’s pretty difficult to get worked up about community issues and problems. Likewise, if you drive over to Bellis Fair and can’t find a parking spot, it’s virtually impossible to believe that the country is on the cusp of economic disaster. So, getting people to move toward the future with a common intention is impossible.
Recently, on the Next Door site (Lummi Island’s social network) there’s been comments about saving the store and a poll about the importance of business on the island. These are interesting discussions and questions. The Islander Store is a fascinating subject from an island POV. It seems to be emotionally important. Everyone likes it and wants it to succeed. Unfortunately, no one shops there frequently enough for it to be successful. That is, successful enough to support the owners in the style to which they would like to be accustomed.
In a previous life I worked closely with a hundreds of small business owners and was a small businessperson myself. For me, there is nothing sadder than someone going out of business. I have actually found myself in tears learning that a business I know has gone down the tubes. But the reality of business is that you have to provide a service that people need as well as want. You have to have strong customer support in the form of dollars spent, not just a desire to have the business available. You have to have working capital to fuel the enterprise.
It’s amazing to me that B and D and family have been able to keep it going this long because with a virtual bridge that makes it possible to get to Costco and Trader Joe’s in thirty minutes, an island store is not a service that people need. It’s just not that difficult to buy one’s groceries in Bellingham or Ferndale while combining the trip with a myriad of other errands that make the town run more cost effective than shopping at the Islander.
The convenience of the ferry makes life difficult for many small businesses on the island to succeed and prosper. It’s not like we don’t have a number of businesses here. We have handy men, contractors, massage therapists, computer programmers, website designers, florists, a chiropractor, chimney sweep, nursery, energy healers, psychic reader, delivery people, galleries, two cafes, an inn, vegetable growers, small engine repair, car repair, fresh fish sales, potters, weavers, realtors, lawyers, home health caregivers, house cleaners, arborists, landscapers, woodworkers, excavators, wine sales and more. In every case, island customers have the option to go to town for the service or order it up from the mainland. In many cases, maybe even most cases, going to town becomes the first choice.
There’s always an ebb and flow of business. FOILs new calendar showing historic buildings reminds us that there was once business on the island that employed hundreds of people, which made lots of money for a time and which no longer exist. It is often heartbreaking when a business has to close its doors. Money is lost. Lost also is the sweat poured into the business that did not give a return.
As long as we have a ferry running to Gooseberry every thirty minutes and until the fare makes us wince harder than we are wincing now, it will be tough for any business, but particularly retail business to make it on the island.
Which brings me back to the idea of the intentional community. Ours is one of with many motivations. For some, the island is a weekend getaway. For others a home for the summer. For some a retirement haven. For a small group, a place of community. For a few, a place of business. This diversity of intention or motivation for being here will stay the same unless there is some dramatic event(s) which forces a change in attitude.
So, that’s the whole point of this blog—to argue that things may not be as they seem. That the recession may turn to depression, that the government may attempt to become more and more oppressive and that we may have to wake up and review our intentions.