Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Ode to Billie's Country

It was grade 10. Job Prep 10 was the course. Johnston Heights was the school. For our work experience we were to choose 5 places of business from the extensive list of companies that were willing to train 15 year olds for one week. My first 4 choices were clothing stores in the mall; thinking that if I eventually was offered a job, I'd get a new wardrobe with the kick-ass staff discount I was certain all establishments gave. As a last minute, what the heck, I gotta put something down, business name, I chose The Hobby Hut in Langley.

It was grade 10. He had incredible brown eyes and I liked the way he looked from behind when he walked.

Grade 10.
Still a kid.
Max is going into grade 10 for goodness sake...

The choices I made that year had a profound effect on how my life turned out.
After 7 years of dating, I married the cute guy from my Science 10 class.
And after working at the Hobby Hut for all my high school years, I continued in the craft industry - working 16 years at Billie's Country.

My niece is staying with us this week to watch Drew while Max and I work. What's the first thing I did in preparation for her arrival beside fumigate Clint's room? Stop in at Michael's for craft supplies. Why? Because that's what I've always done with my kids in the summertime. Make things.
Would I have done that if my first job had been at Fairweather's? I wonder.
My kids have an artist streak in them. Comes from both sides. Would they have been so agreeable about crafting if I had married a Mennonite farmer? I wonder.

I got home from work to this:

Not even looking up, he says, "Hi mom. Let me guess. You're going to get your camera."
Smart ass.

My mom called earlier.
Billie's is definitely, finally, completely SOLD.
Two years of contracts that didn't complete later - we have a deal.

Even though I said my "good-byes" to Billie's in '03 when we thought we had a solid deal - today I miss it. Buying craft supplies for Drew at Michael's seems wrong. I got Clint and Max's summer stuff wholesale - through Billie's. Michael's is... well, you know. You shop there. Everyone shops there.

Anyway, it's sold. The building belongs to someone else now.
That is just plain weird.

Nothing lasts forever.
It took awhile.
But I'm not bound by those grade 10 decisions any more.

The night after we cleaned out Billie's I wrote the following:

“Is this for sale?”
“That sign on the bathroom door.”
“The sign that says Washroom?”
“Yes. How much is that sign?”
“Uh. It’s not for sale. Crafts and gifts are on sale: 60% off.”
“Oh. I can’t buy that sign?”
“Sorry, no.”
She walks out of the back workroom and into the craft side of the store.
“Are the shelves for sale?”
“Which shelves?”
“The ones on the wall.”
“The slat wall shelves?””Yes. The slat wall. Is it for sale?”
“Uhh. It’s part of the wall. It’s glued and screwed onto the wall.”
“Yes. But is it for sale?”
“Uh. It’s part of the wall. I can’t sell you the wall. It’s attached to the building.”
“So I can’t buy it?”
“Sorry, no. The walls are not for sale. We need them to hold up the roof.”
She wanders around the store and I lose sight of her. Once she leaves my field of vision, she’s someone else’s problem. Candace is at the cash register, she can deal with her.

I’m at Billie’s Country, boxing up all the unsold merchandise. The building has been sold and the inventory needs to be cleared out by 9:00 am Friday Oct 31. It’s late on Thursday afternoon, and the world’s weirdest customers have been out looking for deals.
Helping my mom pack up wiggle eyes and candle holders are Candace and Donna; faithful employees to the very end. Plus, my kids are in the building. As well as my sister and her family. There’s a party atmosphere in the air. (Donna’s daughter calls her on the phone to inquire about dinner, then suspiciously asks, “Are you guys drinking down there?”) We were. Went through 10 litres of root beer.

Yesterday I emptied my desk. 16 years worth of catalogues, files, order forms, and correspondence were set at my curb this morning for the recycling truck to cart away. As I emptied files, I had flashbacks, remembering the conventions and shows where I first saw the products. Mark and I travelled to those shows together, Washington DC, Vegas, San Diego, Anaheim… me checking out the latest craft innovations, him carrying all the brochures and flyers… Good memories. Warm fuzzies.

From my desk I could see the now empty classroom area. Whoa. For the first ten years of Billie’s, that classroom area was THE happening place in Surrey. Thousands of women took hundreds of classes a year. It was a vibrant, exciting, inspirational environment…an awesome place to learn, share, and create. I was so proud of our classes. Especially when a non-crafter would utter in hushed amazement, “I can’t believe I made this. My husband will be blown away. I can’t wait to show him…” Helping build young women’s self esteem was an unexpected by-product of those classes.
These past few years, the basement has been used more for children’s classes. Candace and Donna were kept busy with Kid’s Kraft Kamp, Birthday Parties and Mom ‘n Me classes. I taught crafts to elementary school kids who would come through Billie’s on field trips. I received hugs and affirmation daily from little girls who loved gluing and painting, “Thanks Mrs. O, this was the best fieldtrip ever…”
Awesome memories…

Back upstairs, I can hear my kids. My sons. They’ve “grown up” in this store. All of them, until they started kindergarten spent their days with me here at work. They were my companions on my weekly wholesaling trips. “I think we should buy these, mom.” They had their favorite stores, and considered the wholesalers their friends. They’ve all helped me price merchandise, stock shelves, set up displays, make samples and use the till. And now, they’re helping me box up and close down. They are having fun. They will remember this night, the night Billie’s closed… the night they anointed the soil with all the left over potpourri oil… the night they were told to take what ever they wanted (and they did. Including all the gold glitter spraycans because they think they’ll blow up good in a fire)… the night they transferred all the stuff Nan just couldn’t part with, up to the spare bedroom in the farmhouse… the night we all ate Kentucky fried chicken on the floor in front of the till…

I will remember this night too.
Just like I remember the night before we opened up in August ’87…Clint was a few months old, in his seat, watching while we inflated balloons, swept the porch, straightened out all the shelves… it felt like a celebration that evening too.
So many good good times have happened at this place.

“I can’t believe it” Candace hissed as she came into the backroom for another box.
“What?” I asked.
“That woman.”
“The one who wanted to buy the walls?”
“Yeah. After wandering for an hour, she brought her basket to the front. $5.00 worth of stuff. AND! Our power bars and extension cords. She unplugged the lamps and picked up the cords and bars and asked how much they were!!!”
“Get out.”
“Yeah. Told her they weren’t for sale, but she said they were on the floor, so she wanted to know how much they were…”

None of us are going to miss the stupid customers.


Anonymous said...

Wow, yep Max and Jen, both in grade 10. I too made some life changing choices back then. Should we be concerned??
Worked retail too, although not craft as I usually end up gluing my fingers together and the project falls apart!! But you're right about the stupid customers. I've seen them at their best and worst. The best things I remember were the honest ones who gave back too much change or let me know I hadn't charged them for something. Then wished me to have a great day with a genuine smile and appreciation. Then there were the worst. The one I remember vividly was the lady who slapped her toddler's face in the middle of the store. I was so shocked I didn't know what to do and then she left. That's a do-over I would like. I have thought many times what I should have done and each time I feel sick because of the humanness in all of us. Thank God for hope! Hope to change, be forgiven when we fail-AGAIN, and hope for eternity. Not to have to stay in the same rot we live in.
Wow, soapbox!
Did you see the moon tonight? It was full and beautiful.

Christine Lindsay said...

Stupid people -- amazing. It's always some ditzy woman with too much money and too much time on her hands that wants to wangle items out of you for nothing. There's a word for that -- GREEDY.

And in addition to that, you're such a nice mom to arrange a personal summer camp setting for child while you go to work. But in future, go easy on the rootbeer.