Eight months or so ago, Cameron and I jumped ship from the flotilla that is the Market in Chatham. This is a story that will here evolve, like all life, in meristem fashion. For now, suffice it to say it was a hurried decision to come to Saxapahaw for me. Cameron gave it more consideration. I had to act quick. Literally, I was approached about taking on the project about two weeks before I gave my notice at the co-op. To be sure, I had known the amazing Heather Lagarde and the Saxy project for some years as a I was graciously invited in on some of the ground floor design ideas for the commercial space some three years earlier.
Back then, there was no specific plan for a business for me–I was just interested in working collaboratively with folks without expectation. You know, for the love of it. At that point, when out in Saxy I would pine over possibilities for the store there. It is a beautiful space, but it was going to waste–providing merely a convenience store culture for the community. Also, I would haunt the spaces other with my ideas of a a bistro with wine and beer and simple but delicious food.
Fast forward ahead a few years and look over our shoulder as Cameron and I peered into the window at Durham’s Rue Cler – one of our favorite stops. A little bakery adjoins a 40-ish seat French cafe. Inspired, we dined and envisioned. No expectation, just love. Love knows no expectation, does it? We were working in a store with a strong local economy mission that we took strong ownership of and looking out inspired by the work of others. A few short months later, I was approached with an idea for the Saxgen store, as we call her. It was clear early on that Cameron would help, but not at all clear that she would co-own on the project — which as we will see is now much larger than the store. She was contemplating a one-year-deferred law school admission in the fall. She was considering staying on at the Marketplace. This continued for a while, but some behavior from some of the other management, in reflection, made it clear the flotilla was having navigation problems with the old mission compass. So off the raft she came, to me and to we, thank God. What we have confirmed time and again with the saxy group is that every well developed individual is absolutely indispensable.
So we began the transformation. We have taken our time. One of the elements of our mission is human freedom. We did not want our mission to break down into mere ideology. Spiritual Freedom is an act of will. Choice is one of those acts and it is happening all the time. In short, if we provide Little Debbie snack cakes next to an organic version of the same, a choice will be made. We did not want to alienate frequenters who have good will. We did not want to be exclusive foodies, yet the store as it had been was exclusive in an obverse manner. Many folks felt they were not welcome, or that there just wasn’t anything there for them. Cultural diversity: check.
This is not to say we have not lost some folks. When Cameron confronted a couple of fellows, at different moments, for racial jokes, telling them in her respectful way that such prejudicial language was not welcome here, we “lost” a host of customers who had made themselves known to us. A gentleman used to come in every morning for coffee and even became a convert from biscuit to croissant. He was helpful and complimentary and constructively critical. We appreciated him and said so. He lives right across the river. Gone. A host of others also disappeared from the store but not the neighborhood, around this time including the confronted men. Good decision?
What I learned from the above is something that I have suspected for some time. Coke, Shell, Pepsi etc… bristled when we decided to denude their branding of the store and exude our own brand. We needed them more than they needed us, was their attitude. Hell, Hunt’s Pizza pulled their product from our store because we removed their overwhelming branding. They made us look like their pizza store. We said no thank you. As I look back, they all wanted to own us by telling us how to look and what to order and even how to operate. I had this same feeling, of a domineering impulse, from some of the customers that disappeared. Could it be that this corporate posture has been trained into so much of our population? A branded expectation provides an assurance that one has control in the marketplace, a guarantee of your placement and identity. Love knows no guarantees nor seeks any.
So here we are –good savory food, if I may say so, great baked goods, as many of you do say, and choices for us all. We hope to grow with our community. We see our role as one of service. Service to our employees, customers and community is an aspect of our mission. So if there is anything we can add to the selection or the look and feel of the place we are open for that kind of business.
Saxapahaw General Store