NonessentialsI stopped in at a friend’s store today since I happened to be in the neighborhood. We made polite conversation for a bit, and then he said, “I used to love this business. And I still do, but now… Well, look around you,” he said. “You don’t need any of this stuff to live on.”

He talked about opening his gift business years ago and dealing with the dotcom burst, then the rising and falling times through 2001, then the heyday of 2007, and the beginning of the end starting in late 2008, from which we’ve still not fully recovered.

“I’m reading a lot of history,” I said. “Do you realize, going back and back to nomadic times, that people carried items like you have here? They didn’t need them then, either. But they carried them. They carried them because they were important. And so is what you do here.”

We talked about his store being a scrapbook in itself, that every one of his clients he knew by name and by the important events in their lives. When someone needed a gift for a special occasion, they came to him. He knew birthdays, anniversaries, job changes, graduations, children, weddings, births and deaths all because of his store. He knew tastes, preferences, and most importantly, lives.

His demeanor started to change as we talked. He even started taking notes. He was no longer a man who sold nonessentials. He was the memory maker, a man whose personal story was intertwined in the lives of all the people who came to his store looking for a tangible way to honor a life event. He touched people’s lives through his store.

We talked up a frenzy of ideas and historical events and commemorations and the gifts that went with them, and how to write it all out in a memoir. Soon he started looking at his store with renewed eyes.

“I’m glad you stopped in today,” he said.

I’m glad, too. I needed a writerly conversation. And that’s just what I got.

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at