Minding the Store: A Big Story About a Small Business
Julie Gaines (writer), Ben Lenovitz (illustrator)
October 30, 2018
Minding the Store: A Big Story About a Small Business tells the charming tale of New York City staple Fishs Eddy, an odd little shop that began life selling vintage bits and bobs before finding its groove in the sale and design of dishes, new and antique, many rescued in truckloads from the basements of restaurant suppliers across the city. Writer and co-owner Julie Gaines, along with son and illustrator Ben Lenovitz, chronicle the store’s—and their family’s—slow and sometimes rocky life. Named for a small upstate New York hamlet, Fishs Eddy has become an institution with a life of its own.
Running a family business carries different challenges than the average shop. The stakes, after all, are a bit higher when not only your store or restaurant, but your marriage and life savings ride on success. Sometimes the stress can be too much, fraying tempers and even destroying relationships when sales are down. But sometimes the business hits on a previously-untouched market no one even realized needed to be explored. Such was the case for Fishs Eddy.
I found Minding the Store to be a refreshing look into the life of a small business. Gaines tells her story honestly, not flinching away from the mistakes she and her husband Dave Lenovitz made along the way, but not losing her sense of humor either. Her voice conveys her love of her family intertwined with her love for their shop, their customers, and their wares. Gaines infuses difficult moments, including losing Dave’s mother and coming home on September 11th to find the neighborhood had set up a shrine outside the shop window, where their signature NYC skyline dishes were displayed, with warmth.
Lenovitz’s illustrations share that warmth and candor. They are unfussy and relaxed, well-suited to a book featuring the story of its author, a grown adult running a business, being rounded up by the security guards from the high school next door for mingling with the students who flocked to a bench set outside. A particular favorite of mine is his illustration of himself as an infant, flailing and crying in his crib as a mobile of dishware rotates overhead.
Additionally, Lenovitz separates the text from his thought bubbles, speech balloons, and text boxes. The captions are typed below or alongside each illustration. Since the illustrations supplement the text rather than tell the whole story, this design choice works well. Readers don’t have to worry about trying to increase the size of the images to read impossibly tiny lettering if they are reading a soft copy.
Unfortunately, although I enjoyed reading Minding the Store, the formatting in the Kindle version proved fairly incompatible with my mobile device. No matter how I adjusted the text size or the margins, I wound up with broken lines, the occasional confused paragraph, tiny illustrations, and illustration captions that wandered willy-nilly through the remainder of the text. I hope these issues are a result of having an advance copy and that, by the release date, mobile readers will be able to enjoy the book at its best.
At the end of the day, Fishs Eddy (and, by extension, Minding the Store) is a labor of love. Gaines’ and Dave Lenovitz’s love for all things kitsch. Their love for restaurant tableware and its place in American history. Their love for NYC. More importantly, their love for one another and their family. Without that love, Fishs Eddy wouldn’t exist, and neither would Minding the Store. That would be a true loss.