Honor Your History
Successful retailing is all about having what your customers want today, and predicting what they will want tomorrow. But at the same time, you can't know where your business is going without knowing where it has come from. Your shop's history matters, whether you've been in business just a few months -- or, like us, have been around over 35 years.
We celebrate our store's history in many ways, from vintage photographs of our neighborhood over the years in the entryway to extensive photo albums cataloguing every window display and staff event. Especially if you are just starting out, now is the time to start keeping these records. But even if you've been in business for some time, it's not too late to begin.
Our photo albums serve as inspiration for future displays, and are valuable references for information about promotions we've done over the years. What we most treasure, however, are the pictures of the people who helped make Orange Tree Imports what it is today. We hold a staff reunion every five years, and everyone enjoys looking back over the time that they worked for us.
Retailing is a rather ephemeral art, we've learned. Our neighborhood on Monroe Street has less than 10 businesses under the same ownership or in the same location since we opened -- and some 200 or more have come and gone, or changed. And with these shops and restaurants, what is most important is the people that helped created them.
In 2009 I was inspired by a fantastic book of photography called Shutting Up Shop to create a "time capsule" of Monroe Street businesses to give to the Wisconsin State Historical Society and the Madison Public Library. Shutting Up Shop by John Londei, a touching tribute to the shopkeepers of England, captured in the mid-1980s in a series of 60 photographs in their businesses. These photographs were not published until 2007, at which time they became a poignant "before and after" series showing how many of them had changed.
My version of Londei's book is called Portraits of Monroe Street, and was self-published on Blurb.com. A number of our shops featured in the book have since closed, but they live on in the book. I'm saddened to say that I recently learned from John Londei's daughter Anna that he passed away earlier this month. He lives on through his loving portraits of British shops, a reminder that we need to capture and be proud of our history as shopkeepers.