Saturday, February 16, 2008

End of an era

I was in San Francisco (my old home town) recently, and took a quick twirl-a-whirl around town before my plane left. [Traveler's note: depending upon time of year, it costs the same to rent a car in SF for a few hours -- or a day -- as it does to take a cab to the airport. I rented a car downtown from Thrifty and returned it at the airport for very little -- they even upgraded me into this snazzy little convertible. Of course, the rain didn't let up for one minute, so I never got to open up that roof, no matter how hard I prayed to the sun god.]

Anyway, I happened to drive past the old Tower Records on Columbus, and nearly had tears in my eyes at the sight of -- nothing. No more Tower Records. How many foggy Saturday afternoons had I spent there, combing through obscure Brazilian recordings and weird "Nonesuch" records (folksongs from Alsace, anyone?)? It's just one of those signs of the times. People are getting their music fix in other ways. All from the internet, I guess, downloaded into the ever tinier, ever more powerful ipods. Even Boomtown here in Bend went out of business not too long ago. It was a shock, but I understood why. Margins are really bad, traffic is down, and piracy is the norm. Even in our little Pomegranate shops, where we do still sell cds, we often hear otherwise law-abiding citizens tell each other something like, "oh, if I think you'll like this cd I'm buying, I'll burn a copy for you!" Gulp. It makes me cringe every time. It's not just illegal, it epitomizes the death knell for parts of the music industry. Yet we don't really look at it like actual stealing.

I, for one, like to have a real cd in its case in my hands before deciding to purchase. It's a tactile, visual, and aural thing that you just don't get over the internet. I like flipping through all the offerings of a particular group or artist, or finding some forgotten gem. I love listening stations that have cds queued up that you would never hear on mainstream radio. How about those great little handwritten index cards with staff recommendations (just like in a good bookstore)? I have to see the cover, because packaging is part of the equation. I even like pulling off that irritating little strip of tape stuff that seals the opening of the jewel case.

The best part: popping your new cd into the good sound system at home, and filling up the house with music.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Notes from Market

February 12, 2008

I forgot I had a blog. Not exactly, but somewhere time got compressed and months went by without so much as a day off, and somehow the blogosphere dropped into oblivion. I admire those who consistently generate daily posts and keep it all going. A few of my favorites are Seth's Blog (Seth Godin, who writes these pithy little riffs on business and life), Chocolate & Zucchini (if nothing else, witness with awe the command of the English language this young Parisian woman wields), and sfgirlbybay (fun design ideas and interesting photos of San Francisco).

Just returned from buying trips at several markets. This was one of the more interesting, inspiring and at the same time puzzling market seasons since we started doing this nearly ten years ago. There was joy and dread, good news/bad news around every corner. First, to be perfectly honest, it's a scary time for all us small independent retailers. All the gloomy news about the economy is making everybody pull back a bit (or a lot) and we have no idea what's going to happen in coming months. And unlike a chain store, there's no corporate 'well' to dip from when times are lean. So there were stories about stores going out of business, and about manufacturers falling apart, too. On the other hand, there was so much optimism, and a sense of being able to get through anything if you try hard and you care. There were also people there who were just on the verge of opening new stores, and I was glad to see that kind of upbeat attitude. There was a lot of ordering going on, busy showrooms and booths, new vendors and some wonderful merchandising.

Here's what I noticed: normally at these gift/accessories markets, along with all the good stuff, there are acres of booths with utter junk. The most horrible, ugly, useless and tasteless stuff imaginable. We usually have a contest for the worst item we see, and if I were more quick and clever with my cell phone photo feature, I would offer pictures (strictly verboten to take pictures, of course). If you even venture into these areas of gift hell, you can pretty much trot through it all with a quick, head-swiveling motion. The thing is, sometimes we find that one gem tucked into all the garbage. The poor girl with her adorable new line of cards who got inexplicably wedged in next to the guy with the horrific resin figurines. The good news: there was far less junk this time. That stuff is so depressing, and it's even more depressing to see someone buying it for their store! You wonder who their customers are and why they would waste their money on such cheap junk. So everything at the shows was a little more pared down. Fewer vendors but better offerings. It seemed to me that everything was more thoughtful. There were a lot of green products, something we're constantly searching for (and so happy with what we found this time!). There were a lot of great products made in the US, or imported, but made with sustainable materials by small cottage industries. Overall, there was a lot of great design, which I was so happy to see, whether it made sense for our stores or not.

Of course, there are still many lines made in China, and a lot of it is really well-made and well-designed. You just can't get around that if you want good product at a good price point. I take heart that most of the products are designed, marketed and distributed here, by small companies located all over the U.S.

Anyway, very excited about all the new products from market, and some are starting to roll in already. We always go through this kind of recovery period in January after the holidays. So much is sold out or sold down, and we're too busy and crazed in December to order new things for January. But mostly we want to wait for the shows to find new things for the stores, rather than just reordering what we had before. There's always somebody who walks in just days after Christmas and asks in a loud voice: "Are you going out of business? It looks EMPTY around here!" No, no, we murmur, slumped with exhaustion over our café lattés; we just had a very busy Christmas season and haven't replenished the stock yet (much scarier to have a store fully stocked with inventory that didn't sell during the holiday season). The elves have to go to market first and see what's new and exciting.