Joan Didion supplies my book epigraph

Melody WarnickPlace love0 Comments

A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image.”—Joan Didion

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How 800 residents of Powell, Wyoming, opened a store together

Melody WarnickBuy local, Cool projects, Great towns0 Comments

Creative Commons/Jimmy Emerson, DVM

Creative Commons/Jimmy Emerson, DVM (

In 2002, when the last clothing store shut down in the ranching town of Powell, Wyoming, the 5,300 residents feared for the future of their Main Street, which was already disintegrating into a gap-toothed ghost town of shuttered storefronts and struggling shops. A Super Walmart had just passed them up for nearby Cody; wouldn’t everyone drive over there for their tube socks and pajamas? Other chain stores wanted nothing to do with Powell. It was too small.

So a few locals, including the owner of an office supply store, a CPA, the head of the Powell Chamber of Commerce, and a jewelry store owner, took matters into their own hands. They made plans to open a community-owned, for-profit variety shop. It was conceived like a co-op. More than 800 of the town’s residents bought investment shares in increments of $500 or $1,000, although they were warned that it might be more like a donation if things didn’t work out as planned. Within a year, the group raised over $400,000 and opened the doors to the Powell Mercantile. Go under the candy-striped awning and you’ll find everything you’d expect to see in a bargain store, from t-shirts to jeans to tube socks.

It was never the founders’ plan to operate a charity. “We knew we could do something that would help downtown, but we also wanted this to be a successful business,” explains Ken Witzeling, the former president of the Powell Mercantile’s board of directors. In its first year, the Merc, as people call it, beat expectations by doing $520,000 in business. Investors eventually got a 7 percent return.

More impressively, the Merc has attracted additional small businesses to Powell’s downtown. The store’s success has even inspired copycat co-ops across the West in hard-scrabble ranching towns you’d never associate with the word “co-op,” like Ely, Nevada, and Worling, Wyoming. As Bill McKibben points out in his excellent book Deep Economy, “The Powell Mercantile hasn’t solved all the world’s problems; it buys from the same sweatshops the big boxes patronize. But it’s at least solved some of the town’s problems.”

Have you ever heard of a project like this where you live? What do you think—would you invest?

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Stuff I’m Reading: Three Authors on Belonging

Melody WarnickReading and writing, Stuff I love, Uncategorized0 Comments

We Are Not Ourselves, Euphoria, Station Eleven

My lazy summer is abruptly coming to an end, with revision deadlines and intense back-to-school shopping with my daughters. Here’s your back-to-school assignment: Go to Musing, the blog of Parnassus Books, in Nashville. Put it in your RSS feed. Wait with baited breath till a post by Ann Patchett pops up. Enjoy.

I’ve never been to this bookstore physically—never even been to Nashville—but reading about books is my fave, and Musing provides much delight in this arena. Some of it even has to do with This Is Where You Belong. A couple months ago, a post featured interviews with three authors, Emily St. John Mandel, Matthew Thomas, and Lily King, who were asked whether they felt like they belonged anywhere. Their answers were fascinating. As King responded, “After traveling and living in different parts of this country and abroad for several years, I have returned to New England, where I grew up, to raise my own family in a small town not all that unlike the one I left when I was eighteen. So I do have a sense of belonging and of home here. And I like it. But I also feel that itch to uproot and plunk down someplace unfamiliar for a while. It’s essential to me.”

Is uprooting essential to you? Where do you feel like you belong? Or do you? Go read what the other authors had to say about it.

P.S.: I read Station Eleven last year. Loved it.

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Stuff I Love: Stately Type t-shirts

Melody WarnickStuff I love0 Comments

I’ve been following Stately Type on Instagram for a while now, because it’s awesome. Every week or so, husband-and-wife team David and Holly Lesué pick a place, usually a city or a state, but sometimes a country or a destination, and debut designs for three different t-shirts for it. Their fans, all 13,000 of them, get to vote for their fave, and the winner gets printed and sold online.

Stately Type

First off, it’s just good design. The Lake Powell t-shirt , an homage to vintage Patagonia, kills me, and for months Quinn’s been lusting after the 801 Beehive sweatshirt, whose antecedents only true Utahns understand. But the most interesting part is watching this become a crowdsourced social media phenomenon, as followers throw out ideas, tag local friends, and work themselves into a frenzy on behalf of places they love.

I’ve blogged before about the rising popularity of place-centric art, which I think is a manifestation of how devoted people are to where they live, or where they’re from. Smart creative companies like Stately Type know how to cash in on that.

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