Dec 222011

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.


  4 Responses to “Intentional Communities”

  1. Regarding the Island Store.
    Maybe the owners of the store should look to a new model for store.
    Meaning if the store had more organic and or other unusual items vs a model built on IGA or Safeway.
    That store has huge potential and have to be honest and say its not being tapped?
    Would not take much to give that store a facelift and have a more community based store.
    With all due respect.

  2. I think the store has a perfect location, especially as a place to grab-and-go near the ferry dock. It has the space for an amazing cafe and gift store and should be the business center of our island. Sadly the store is frumpy and decorated with laminate, rows of empty shelves, and looks like a poster child for inner city retail. I say all of this with pleading love, it breaks our heart. With minimal budget the store could redecorate and tidy up. Lease a spot to someone with an espresso machine and some table cloths. Offer great cheeses and promote local Legoe Bay wine (which is quite good). Why this was not done earlier may be the reason our dear store is circling the drain…

  3. It takes lots of energy, enthusiasm, and motivation to keep a store going. Maybe the owners need a sabbatical. As a store owner, sometimes I think about having someone take over for a short period of time (3 months). There are many ramifications to consider, however.

    On the topic of intentional communities, my aunt and uncle built a home to share with another family. They joined together in the shared living room for many meals and celebrations. They shared equipment, parenting chores, cooking and much more. I thought the situation was ideal. But I get that those who share homes must be willing to give more than 50% all the time, and overlook seemingly small faux pas.

  4. 2012 and I’m pulling my head out of the sand to have a look around. Randy’s post on ‘Kick the Can’, then successive, rat-a-tat-tat articles and comments on how shitty things were and could get, put me into major denial for the rest of the year.
    OK, the economic meltdown didn’t happen. Hopefully it never will, because I’ll get wiped out along with most everyone else, and as I get older in retirement, my skills are becoming diminished to the point that I won’t have much to barter with. I did go back and read or listened to all the posts about why we are on the edge of the abyss, and I can’t find a good reason to cry foul. So there I am. Powerless to effect the big picture.
    So, what about the small picture. Maybe we can do something to soften the body blows coming. Maybe, we can sort through some of our problems, and have a general direction we’re heading in type ‘Intentional Community’. I agree with Randy that getting the whole island on the same page is impossible.
    The survey I posted several weeks ago was way too short to be statistically valid, but it did point out that many of us think business’ on the island are part of what holds this community together and important to preserve.
    With that said, I think there are some really bright people on this island that may wish to play doctor for an evening. Assess the patient, take some vital signs, see what the diagnosis may be, and see what’s in the medicine chest if needed. Maybe just a couple of aspirins and a good night sleep is all we need. Maybe our temperature is just fine. Then again, maybe not.
    Anyway, it’s an idea worth kicking around to see if there’s any interest.

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