“Where does it all lead? What will become of us? These were our young questions, and young answers were revealed. It leads to each other. We become ourselves.” ― Patti Smith, Just Kids
Jeff Barney and Cameron Ratliff know very well how much goes into making a dream a reality. Twelve years ago they began shaping this General Store reality choice by choice, infused with the energy and support of staff and community. Change is powerful, and every choice matters.
Their mission has always been to create a “community place.” They imagined a spot where a village could gather for food, drink, and provisions, run by people whose varied backgrounds have taught them they can influence their world by collaborating with their neighbors. They hoped to serve Saxapahaw residents with a range of products from Cheerwine to Kombucha, from motor oil to five-star food, offerings that could allow everyone to feel welcome. (And live bait is back!)
A lot has changed, but not the mission. Local flavors persist and change as we do. (Did you know Cheerwine, RC Cola, and Pepsi are all North-Carolina-born?) We all make choices every day, firmly, enthusiastically, and by default. We choose to feed and to be fed by our community as much as we can, and with our senses always open to new possibilities. Products have life cycles, just as we do. Needs are addressed as we acknowledge them, and, here at the store, staying true to our bottom lines (people, planet, profit) is not always easy. The struggle is real, and so are the satisfactions. As Nature shows, change can refresh and regenerate. In the past year, we created a colorful new menu and updated our website (thank you, Orin Shepherd!). Such a change requires clear intention, motivation, communication, review, knowledge, skills, and time. In other words, knowing what we want and doing the hard work!
We are 100 percent responsible for our stories, our language, our choices. Some customers may think our prices are high and ask why (the secret is bulk–larger orders mean much cheaper prices per item). Being part of the Store’s daily operations has helped me to realize and appreciate the energy that makes this dream real and its mission sustainable. Art in many forms adds energy to this stream. Our new pop-up-shop neighbor, Heather Seaman, owner of Otter & Elk, has a sign on the door that reads: Shop Your Values. Her message resounds as the story of our community interweaves.
We never truly know where our lives will lead; still, the clarity of a blue-sky day brings out our feelings of how good it is to be alive and to be with those we love, doing what we love to do. As Joe Jacobs (marine biologist and owner of Haw River Canoe and Kayak Company) has pointed out, poignantly, all life is interdependent with its surroundings. “In a world full of death, nature shows the miracle of life.” The way the tree leaves move and the river surface ripples with the sweet breeze reminds us. Greeting and getting to know our neighbors expands this life-miracle. How do we apply the knowledge available to us in any field of vision? How can we help? To quote Orin Shepherd, our graphics wizard, and co-worker, “That’s what I love about Saxapahaw. There are lots of friendly people who have different tools and experience and a willingness to help.”
Every place has its personality. Other stores may have grocery carts (adult-size!), uniformed staff, bigger kitchens and parking lots, cheaper prices. Having choices makes us better thinkers! We are all curators, soul-charged with our cultural creation and interpretation. Let’s claim our stories and love them. How we choose to share our story is up to us.