There’s an origin story behind every retail shop, and ideally you tell yours in the “About” section on your website. But chances are good that you won’t have the opportunity to tell it in a hard-cover graphic memoir issued by Workman Publishing Company. Julie Gaines and her husband David Lenovitz of Fishs Eddy in New York have always done things a little differently, so it’s a joy that Workman chose to share their story in such an original manner.

The book’s full title is Minding the Store: A Big Story about a Small Business, and it could be argued that Fishs Eddy – with both a wholesale and retail division – is no longer very small.  But it did start out small, like most independent retail stores.  Julie and David’s first inventory was made up of flea market finds, which is a great way to start a shop when you only have a small amount to invest. Their operation really developed its unique niche when they started buying up quantities of old dishes and glassware made for restaurants and hotels.

They worked hard to clean up and display these large lots of vintage housewares.  Business started to take off, and Minding the Store talks frankly and with humor about the challenges of having their mothers work for them, finding time for their marriage, and eventually rearranging their lives to include two children (their son Ben Lenovitz, did the funky illustrations for the book).  

As the business grows, there are enough rough points —including inept managers, a chronic illness, and a near bankruptcy — that those of use who have been on a similar entrepreneurial journey will be comforted by the fact that these obstacles were overcome.   Today Fishs Eddy produces many of its own products, and holds the license for major artists such as Todd Oldham and Charley Harper.  Our store is in fact a wholesale account of theirs, which is probably why Workman sent us an advance copy of the book.

American Airlines recently featured Minding the Store in their magazine, including the photo that accompanies this article. The article talks about the products that Fishs Eddy is now best known for, including some snarky designs by Julie Gaines, New York-themed items for both natives and tourists, and a new line of feel good products with a retro look.

The company with the unlikely name (you’ll have to read the book to find out what happened to the apostrophe) is clearly on a roll, but as fellow entrepreneurs we know that you can never rest on your laurels. In fact, one of my favorite moments in the book is the epilogue. It shows Julie dropping and breaking a bowl, and reacting with just one word: “Oops.”

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder