Friday, December 14, 2007
More than a store
Four years ago at Christmastime, Daisy's Market in Carlisle Center closed and a few weeks later Ferns Country Store opened, with co-proprietors Larry Bearfield and his wife Robin Emerson at the helm. While Daisy's and its many predecessors — which date back to 1844 when the first store opened in the center — left their positive marks on the town, in four short years Ferns has been a change agent for the entire community, much to the surprise of many Carlisleans who initially viewed the renovations wrought by the new owners with skepticism and some dismay.
Take the exterior color, for example. The store segued from white with black shutters to an eye-popping bright yellow with green shutters in a process reminiscent of a black and white film morphing into Technicolor. Then the store grew a farmer's porch, bedecked with rocking chairs, followed by a brick "piazza," which seemed more appropriate to a ristorante in Calabria than a country store in Carlisle. The offer of commemorative bricks in the piazza and the prospect of a water fountain burbling on the sidelines raised eyebrows around town. To bring about all these changes, Bearfield and Emerson made countless visitations to town boards and after a long, long time, their plans were approved.
Ferns has undergone more than just cosmetic changes. There's a new community spirit swirling around the store, fueled by Bearfield's entrepreneurial drive. The store has become an outdoor community center, with weekend programs ranging from Feng Shui and fire protection to rousing music by the Carlisle Organics (including a rendition of the "Carlisle Police Blotter Blues.") A town-wide highlight last July was the political debate among candidates in the Fifth Congressional District election who held forth on Ferns porch while Carlisleans overflowed the piazza and spilled into the roadway. It was this event that confirmed Bearfield as more than a storekeeper — he had become the center's chamber of commerce.
Carlisle skeptics have become believers. No longer is Ferns merely a mecca for bikers and contractors working in town. Mingling with them are Carlisleans stopping in for coffee or a sandwich under the green umbrellas on the piazza (but not this icy December). In season, the piazza programs draw crowds, and Carlisle becomes a community.
Ferns was the center of Halloween activity and on Sunday sponsored the Christmas tree lighting on the Common. In addition to achieving recognition in Carlisle for their contributions to town life, Bearfield and Emerson were honored by the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, which chose Ferns as "Massachusetts Retailer of the Year" for the "deep relationship that Ferns has built with the community and their customers." "Piazza" has eased into the Carlisle vocabulary as naturally as "pathways" and the store in the heart of town remains a vibrant part of town life.
After taking the homebound train to Concord the other day, I discovered that my car was blocked in. The car to my left (which parked after I left my car in the morning) was within inches of the left side of my car. Worse, the car had pulled in at an angle, so that its rear passenger wheel well was nested over the corner of my rear bumper. It was impossible for me to back out, and a snowbank in front precluded that avenue of escape. I waited for the next train to arrive, in hopes that the other driver might appear and move the car. The next train did not bear the other driver, but I was able to enlist the aid of two other commuters; together, the three of us shoveled through the snowbank, pushed my car through the remaining snow onto the snow-covered grass beyond and, eventually, through a clearing back onto the paved parking lot.
I thanked my rescuers, and was left to contemplate how someone could have left me in that predicament to begin with.
I am certain that the other driver meant no affirmative ill will — I cannot imagine that someone would intentionally block a car into a parking space. It is far more likely that the other driver pulled into the space in a hurry and without particular care, and left without considering the impact of his position on anyone else. For the want of the 20 seconds or so it would have taken the other driver to look around the car before leaving it, I was severely inconvenienced.
Of course, an additional element was missing, besides the 20 seconds — an awareness or concern on the part of the other driver for the possibility that others might be affected by his actions. Are the two simply different facets of the same phenomenon? In other words, do people tend to disregard the impact of their actions on others because they are feeling pressed for time? Or do other factors contribute?
Without speculating on the root causes, it is fairly easy to identify numerous other examples of the same form of discourtesy. How many times, when walking through a doorway, does one person pass through without looking to see if another person is close behind? And how much time would it take to hold the door for the next person? Retail parking lots are filled with shopping carts, often set in motion by wintry winds, because they are left in parking spaces or travel aisles by users who, when finished, are unwilling to expend the few seconds needed to return them to the designated storage areas. I need not detail examples from driving around Boston.
As a child in a small town, I grew up feeling connected to everyone else. After a big snowstorm, my father and brothers and I would go up and down our street, along with all the other fathers and brothers on the street, until everyone was dug out. There was a sense of looking out for others, and a confidence that they were looking out for you. It was not born of obligation — it was simply how things were. Have we since become disconnected from each other, or are we just in a hurry?
I pose the question at this time of year, as we are rushing to and from our various holiday gatherings and preparations. The holidays place many additional demands on our time, and we are often so pressed that we lose sight of the joy that is supposed to define the season. Let us not also lose sight of those around us, and the myriad opportunities to expend a few seconds to make things easier for them. With those small gestures, maybe we can recover some of the joy.
© 2007 The