What do a Library and the Five-Star General Store Have in Common?

Roots run deep, to land we love, and through time, families, neighbors, and communities. Roots of knowledge, learning, and memories also run deep, generationally, and are linked to the places where we land and the people and places we love and remember. Places we like to be.

Recently I read an article called Raleigh’s 50-ft Librarian by Scott Huler in Our State magazine (2014). Huler wrote about NC State’s Hunt Library, in west Raleigh, which opened in January 2013 at a state cost of about $115 million.  “Think again!” might be the building’s motto, its designers said.  Susan Nutter, the Libraries’ Director, wanted a library for NOW, not more bricks and rectangles. Students and faculty wanted a building that would keep changing, keep growing, and would give them a chance to change and grow with it. A goal and design emerged to house the system as an efficient dynamic human environment of research, interactive learning.

The state-of-the-art technology is constantly in use in creative ways, yet the design’s focus became on the interactions of people. The place is designed for activity, discovery, and collaboration. The architect (whose company also designed the Bibliotheca in Alexandria, Egypt, which opened in 2002) said it is almost the opposite of the way libraries of the past are thought of: lots of books with dusty spines, lots of quiet, solitary patrons sitting in cubicles for long periods. Books are primarily retrieved by bookBots that dive deep (and transparently, so patrons can watch them through the glass) into stacked metal bins which hold most of its 1.5 million collection. There is no browsing among those volumes, but the space is well used and the bookBot apparently captivating to watch.

The Hunt Library may not be one that my parents would have recognized, but they surely would have appreciated its creation. The students and faculty asked for a library that, at its core and in its every facet, serves its students and adapts to the now of this time and more, and that’s what they got.

The Hunt Library vision and creation reminds me of this humming General Store in Saxapahaw. A community is vital when its people serve each other in ways that complement each other and the whole, the place, and the community. At the Store, this is a conscious mission, just as it was and is at the Hunt Library. These visionaries knew what they wanted to create and would not settle for less: test limits; see what holds; see what breaks; listen; innovate. Creating a lively gathering place which serves each of us is our way of consciously building a structure to nurture the best of our everyday creations.

Collaboration and bonds with neighbors (we’re all students and teachers!) is the substance of a place where people know the value of their buried roots and the flowering that comes from them as well as the necessity of change. Here, at the General Store, produce changes with the seasons, new local products appear, staff changes, neighbors go and come, children go away to school and some return. Memories are shared and new ones made. People are drawn to and back to Saxapahaw, and everyone is welcome.

When Jeff Barney and Cameron Ratliff began to think about the community they love and its potential to grow as a supportive economy, they imagined, with fellow visionary and native son Mac Jordan, a place where a village could gather for food, drink and provisions, run by people whose varied backgrounds have taught them that we each influence our environment every day by interacting with all who darken the doors and step over the threshold. Every day I learn more about the amazing people who work and gather or pass through the Store and the village: the chefs who daily dish out food to exclaim over and tell your friends about; staffers who sew, dance, make lace, candles, music; some who are models, mothers, fathers, composers, artists, yoga instructors, gamers, readers, writers, graphic designers; customers who are farmers, artists, builders, carpenters, parents, students, teachers, consultants, gardeners, inventors, and veterans of all kinds; and we also get to enjoy many beautiful boisterous and studious children of all ages. What gifts.

As new businesses and relationships appear and grow, the mission remains the same. The Store is well-established and re-inventing all the time, along with the great neighbors and visitors we serve. Those who work and gather here are as independent as ever and still always strive to work together and appreciate the daily delights and opportunities of NOW. My parents might have been overwhelmed by the many menu offerings and amazed at some of the shelf items, but I think they would have been happy with what they were served. And they completely understood the mission. It’s about people first, and talents and values converge. Thank you all!

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