I have a great job. It doesn't pay a lot of money, but there are perks. I get to spend time with some fine folks, learning about them and telling their stories. I'm often told these little stories help their businesses. This makes me feel good. Every job should have some warm and fuzzies. I get to type on my computer at home in my PJs. Get to make my own hours. Take the day off if I find a new book that I must read RIGHT NOW.
The little box on every Page 3 of Shoppe Talk states that I am the publisher. I am also the ad salesman, the writer, the lay-out gal, and the delivery person. Before the days of color, I also printed ST for several years, but thankfully professional printer Gary Ward does that job now for my black and white. So I was able to rid myself of my old AB Dick 360, a workhorse of a printer that came over on the Mayflower.
When I started ST, I bought a $70 waxer and borrowed a word processor from my friend Marvon Browning. After 20 years, I still wax down the black and white pages, much to the amusement of friends and colleagues. But, hey, they'll never experience that zen zone this Luddite process affords the waxer-upper. But I have graduated from word processor to a Mac, so "I've got that going for me," as they say on Reddit.
In my first issue, March 1994, the main story was about Lady I's on Cantrell Road. Over the years, I would write several stories about Ida Moose's unique little shop where she rented booth space for enterprising sellers of antiques, curios, clothing and junk. That first issue had 22 ads in six pages - not a bad start, actually. They were all centered around "the neighborhood," which was within a few blocks of my home in Foxcroft - 17 of the businesses on Cantrell Road. It was great that my neighbors were so enthusiastic about my little ad rag, because I didn't have a working automobile and had to hoof it to sell my ads.
Some of my first advertisers are still with me today. Scallions is a good example:
"Walking down the steps into Scallions' leafy courtyard in the spring is like visiting a good friend. It's a warm, welcoming atmosphere. You know your favorite dishes will always be on the menu. You leave, reluctantly, but with a smile. Scallions is more than just a great spot for lunch. It is a restaurant where little girls eat chicken salad with the moms, and then order that same chicken salad for their wedding showers, baby showers and wedding anniversaries."
The restaurant's delightful owner, Rachael Crosby, is a friend and mah jongg buddy, and when we find time to play, she brings - the chicken salad.
From time to time, ST has veered into the area of news or opinion. The first time was in the first year, fifth issue, when I reported on a meeting where Heights merchants were opposing the proposed closing of R Street so that Calvary Baptist Church could expand. One woman at the meeting, Pearl Bowen Pennington, said the church should "build up" by adding a balcony to its sanctuary. "You'd be closer to heaven," ST quoted Ms. Pennington as saying. But the Rev. Walter Draughon III nixed that idea, saying a balcony would create a communication problem and a "lack of warmth." Dr. Draughon said, "We cannot go up, because there is only one way for us to go." The wonderfully talented Charles Allbright noted the irony in the quote in a wry column in the Democrat-Gazette. I was pleased, but a little puzzled, since I was persona non grata at the paper, where I had toiled for 10 years during the great newspaper war, got burned out, tried to start a union, was fired, and the paper fought my unemployment benefits - and it lost. I shouldn't have been too pleased, because that was the last time ST was mentioned in the D-G to my knowledge.
In the area of opinion, I've written pieces against the Patriot Act, for gay rights, against development in the Lake Maumelle area, the inadvisability of Waste Management getting the curbside recycling contract, against poultry farm pollution of streams, and for doing away with the sales tax on food.
In doing so, I've learned some things. One thing is that Little Rock is a pretty gay-friendly city. Feedback on issues such as gay marriage and gay adoption was pleasantly positive. I only had a few complaints in the early days of running PFLAG endorsements. I guess those folks stopped reading ST, and that's fine.
It's very therapeutic to be able to blast off an editorial occasionally. I wrote of the Patriot Act and Patriot Act II: "These Machiavellian documents are bold grabs of power that strip away 200 years of rights guaranteed under the Constitution." This rant was in the November 2003 issue, pre-Edward Snowden revelations. Thank you, Mr. Snowden; may you get the Nobel Peace Prize.
Of course, most of ST's pages have been filled with stories about the keepers of small shops and locally owned restaurants. Getting to tell their stories is a blessing. Their enthusiasm and innovation are inspiring. Hard work, admirable. And so many warm and funny tales of their experiences have shown me that it's true that everyone has a story in them.
Not all stories are about businesses. One of my favorites was headlined "Something's Always Blooming in Mrs. Causey's Garden." Margaret Causey once kept a beautiful garden at the corner of Cantrell and University. She had strangers who'd been uplifted by the sight stop by to thank her, and, when they did, Margaret inevitably shared her plants with them.
If you're corny and you know it, clap your hands. One thing that ST has cornered the market on over the years is corn. My hubby, Jay King, calls this the "tie it up with a big red bow" effect. It was an unfortunate phrase I used once and was never able to live down. As a copy editor, when Jay's not pointing to an errant phrase in my copy and sneering "tie it up with a big red bow" to let me know my corn has run amok, he may be pointing out "at ats." Although Jay has saved my butt, grammatically speaking, on countless occasions, this one got by us both.
An "at at" is ST argot for a typo. An unfortunate typo in a headline on the top of the front page read:
Warren Criswell at
at Cantrell Gallery.
It may look bad here, but, believe me, it looked worse in 42 point type.
So we strain to cut down on "at ats." This is where my friend Karen Proetz comes in.
Ms. Proetz is a primo copy editor. Excellent. Top drawer. And, she does this for free, just to make ST a better publication and to save her friend from embarrassment.
If you ever see an "at at" in ST, it's because I did not have time to run the story by Karen. With our crazy color deadlines, sometimes I am literally writing stories minutes before they are sent to the color printer.
That brings me to the lovely Kelley Naylor Wise, whose computer skills have brought me into the wonderful world of color.
As early as the first year, ST was using color - one color that is. For $5 for a small ad or $10 for a large one, an advertiser could add one color - typically red.
Now, the ST front page is a color spectacular, an ocular orgasmic display, thanks to Mrs. Wise.
A happy happenstance brought this about. I was talking with Eric Coleman, owner of Hillcrest Designer Jewelry, telling him how I wanted to get into color, but did not have the computer skills. A few years before I had tried selling color ads first, and then figured I'd find someone to put them on the page when color advertisers thronged to ST. Unfortunately no one beat down the ST door or even opened their own a crack to let us get a technicolor toe in. (Sometimes a "tie it up with a big red bow" does get by Jay.)
Kelley, who was working with Mr. Coleman that day in the shop, said she knew all about using Photoshop, and she'd love to bring ST into the 21st century.
And Eric, bless his heart, volunteered that he'd be happy to place color ads with me.
Voila. We have six color pages now and hope to grow.
Another innovation was "This Is Arkansas," a blog I started in 2009 to put ST stories on line. I spend an inordinate amount of time playing with the stats counter, just thrilled silly with the number of folks who read the blog.
One thing that has changed over the years, and maybe not for the better, is that ST no longer delivers door to door.
I really miss the kids who delivered for me. They ranged from ages 8 to 18 and were a joy to work with. They delivered door to door in the Heights, Hillcrest, Pleasant Valley, Foxcroft and Robinwood. This was before our circulation area expanded to downtown, down Highway 10, Maumelle and other environs.
Most of the kids lived in the areas they delivered, so their neighbors knew them. They were dependable and enthusiastically walked the hilly areas where I could not deliver. (I worked level streets in the Heights and Hillcrest - preferably in the spring to satisfy my flower jones.)
Perhaps my favorite delivery boy was a wee lad who covered Robinwood, his home turf. Each time he finished, he'd call me and say simply and forcefully, "I want my money."
Ah, if we adults could only be so straightforward.
Thank you ST readers.
And thanks to my advertisers, without whom I would not be still enjoying putting out this little pub.