Friday, January 7, 2011

Do It Write

A lot of the talk during Holiday 2010 was about "local." Here in the Heights, we are partial to local either way, but with the Walmart battle raging it's more on our minds than ever. This isn't exclusive to our neighborhood though. All across the country, small towns and big cities are realizing more and more how the small and local businesses fuel their local economies. Even American Express got in on this "go local" trend with their Small Business Saturday promotion. Small businesses create 80% of jobs, and local businesses inject more money in to local economies.

I think these are great reasons to shop local, but they are not the reasons I originally started being such an advocate for neighborhood businesses. My reasons are much more sentimental. I grew up in a small town where, when I was young, we pretty much only had small businesses. My grandmother worked with the wives of these businesses; I went to school with the kids and grandkids of these businesses. When these businesses closed, we felt it as a community. Because of this, when I see a small business I see the owner. Small business owners are usually doing what they are doing to somehow make their life better. They rarely usually do it with an eye to getting rich. In fact most of them hope it will be enough to just be comfortable and happy at the same time. If you live in reality, you know that small business owner is a hard job and involves a lot of sacrifice. But it also gives the owner a sense of pride and allows a person do things on their own terms.

Fun, playful pens are exactly the kind of cheery items Write Now! is coming to be known for. In addition to these whimsical pens, the shop offers some finer writing implements as well.

Timekeepers for the kitchen, the desk or the kid's room. The alarm clocks on the right sound off like the animal pictured. I brought the frog to a White Elephant gift exchange and it was highly coveted!

Take Shanna at Write Now! on White Oak.... Shanna didn't become a small business owner because she was bored with her life of leisure. She didn't have an inheritance and decided to humor herself. Shanna spent 25 years in one the most valuable yet undervalued careers we have: teacher. Inner city teacher. Inner city science teacher. For more than 2 decades, she educated children and loved doing it, but the school system made it harder and harder for her to keep going. She feels "the direction that education is headed is squeezing the joy out of learning and teaching." Shanna was ready for a watershed moment. She did what most of us would do facing an unknown future: she looked at her past. She thought about places, times, people... and she remembered the years she worked at Iconography in Rice Village. Iconography's stationery store is now home to a national candle selling chain, but Shanna has great memories of her time there. She "loved working there," and other than teaching, she says the time at Iconography "was the best job" she'd ever had.

The Melissa & Doug brand is a favorite with the Mommy Mafia and with good reason. Write Now stocks a great collection of their art supplies for kids including coloring pads, stamp sets, paints and sticker books.

With education more frustrating than rewarding and its future not leaving much promise for change, Shanna decided she wanted to recreate a piece of Iconography. She loved the products and the atmosphere and wanted to recreate how people felt when shopping or working there. Shanna cashed out her nest egg to open her own little stationery shop. It would be, she hoped, "a miniature rebirth" of the store she loved so much.

Album cover clocks and coasters are some of her best sellers. I guess they appeal to the nostalgics among us. David Bowie, The Doors, Elvis, Johnny Cash and more.

But where? Rice Village doesn't have the feel it did all those years ago, and we won't even get in to the price of trying to make a go as a small business down there. Shanna has lived in Silverdale, just across 45 from the Heights, for 15 years. She has seen the Heights develop and knows the people here care about and support small business. She also felt there wasn't a store like what she was going to open amongst all the wonderful little shops in the area. Surveying the neighborhood, she was drawn to the renovated strip center 2 doors down from Onion Creek. It was boldly remodeled in art nouveau style a few years back but has been vacant since the re-do. It was real leap of faith--cashing in her retirement to open a store that caters to (what some consider) the dying art of letter writing/card sending in a less-travelled location in the neighborhood.

Starting a small business with a finite amount of resources calls for some creative thinking. Shanna got these... ahem... pantyhose racks at Fixtures International in the Heights for far less than she would have paid for actual card racks. Bet if I didn't tell you that, you never would have known the difference!

This is what is so special about small business. The business is the person. Shanna put herself in to her store. And it's obvious. My absolute favorite thing about any small, locally owned store is that you can see the owner's personality in every corner. Write Now! is bright and a little quirky, just like it's owner. Her years as an educator can be seen in the carefully selected art supplies and gift items for kids. Shanna spent a prior 10 years with the Wildlife Discovery Program at the Houston Zoo. Those years are reflected in her variety of animal themed supplies, from pencils and magnets to clocks. Like any small store owners, Shanna has hand selected each and every item in the store. She knows how they work and what's cool about them. She knows why they're there and who she hopes they will appeal to. And she is there, to greet you, chat, show you around, answer questions.

While you can find more traditional and subdued items, bright color and a sense of humor dominate the shelves.

As Shanna thumbed through this blank journal, she told me all about how seeing them at market, how they are made and why she chose to sell them. No cashier at Target can do that!

Her leap of faith is paying off. Write Now! weathered it's 1st holiday season, selling Heights residents holiday cards, decorations, and great stocking stuffers. Now, the store is bright, clean and ready for 2011. Additions for the New Year include fun planners and organizers, plus some business card holders which customers suggested she stock. As far as setting up shop on the road less travelled, perhaps Shanna is a visionary: with Christian's Tailgate and D'Amico's coming in just down the road, White Oak will be seeing a lot more traffic and Write Now! is going to get a lot more visible. Looks like she got it right!

3122 White Oak Dr
Tues- Sat, 10 AM- 6 PM and Sun 11 AM- 5 PM.

P.S. Write Now! also sells postage stamps!

1 comment:

  1. thanks for these posts! i don't comment a lot, but between this blog and your presence on facebook, you've led me to some great local finds. keep pointing!