Adventures in Retailing
Part VI: Arts & Crafts
Ross M. Miller
Miller Risk Advisors
July 25, 2005
My tale begins with the disintegration of the stitching on my right
slipper. Slippers, especially the lined variety, come in handy up north
here pending twenty more degrees of global warming—though
ten degrees combined with sufficient coastal migration to provide me with
beachfront property would suffice. This moccasin-style slipper came from
Nordstrom about the time the sales associates started disappearing.
I could have taken my slippers to the local shoe repair place, but then
I'd have to hope for the best and remember to pick them up. I could have
tossed them out and bought another pair over the Internet, which would
have been the smart thing to do in retrospect, but it was summer and my
youthful preparation for a career in neurosurgery (we called it
"brain surgery" back then) gave me the confidence to attempt the
delicate lace transplantation procedure.
Before Wall Street decided that it could stand to hire
me for the summers, my parents would dump me on a variety of camps
whose counselors came up activities to occupy my time and prevent me from
fully realizing my destructive potential. My favorite sanctioned
activities were crafts projects. Most were simple and many involved pipe
cleaners. It never occurred to me that anyone would those things to clean
pipes (while I'm sure that I'm related to Sigmund Freud, there is no
documentary evidence to support this belief), I thought that "pipe
cleaner" was like "hot dog," an idiomatic expression. Then,
there were the colorful loops that I would weave into potholders and my
mother would promptly toss out. (I also believed that
"potholder" was idiomatic.) Finally, there was leather. I made
belts and coin purses that served no purpose. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the
I knew that restitching a slipper with leather lace required a trip to
a specialty store. The last Tandy store in the area had closed about the
time that the parent company had renamed itself to Radio Shack; however,
A.C. Moore was still around, situated in the strip-mall-that-time-forgot
on New York's picturesque Route 9. Moreover, time appears to have
forgotten the store itself.
The Latham A.C. Moore store is about the size of one of the larger
long-defunct A&P stores, which is what it might well have been many
moons ago. Unlike its big-box brethren, this A.C. Moore had low ceilings
and was packed, although not uncomfortably so, with both shoppers and
store employees. Within a minute, a saleswench inquired of me, "Can I
help you find something?" I explained my situation and was led to the
leather crafts area, which occupied about six linear feet of shelf space.
It contained a smattering of the old leather kits of my youth as well as a
variety of lacing materials. I picked out a package of lace and a package
of assorted leather-craft needles to go with it. I wondered what one did
with the curved needles. (I have edited out a tasteless joke about my
neighbor's labs and DIY pet lobotomies to ward off a hate mail campaign
My mission accomplished, I wandered about the store, trying to look
inconspicuous and dodging the sales associates while taking audio notes
and flashing pictures with my cell phone. Large bags of stick-on eyes
caught my fancy. They were just the thing to decorate the cover of the
hard copy for my next consulting report. There is nothing that board
underwriting committees like more than a risk assessment that looks back
at them. The scrapbook section featured a "distressing kit" for
$29.99. Here's a business idea: I'll advertise on the Internet to have
people send me their scrapbooks for low-cost "natural"
A.C. Moore itself had that charmingly distressed look to it. It was not
totally disheveled like the nearby Wal-Mart, but the frequent holes in the
stock were indicative of outmoded inventory management methods. If I ever
found myself reduced to weaving baskets, now I knew where to go. If it
were a tad more classy, Martha Stewart would love it here—glue
guns galore and you could even get glue by the stick for 8 cents a pop.
Checkout was efficient and when I got home I discovered that the lace
was too fat to fit through the requisite holes. I figured that I'd find
something to do with it and now I had an excuse to visit Michaels on my
way into my office at the university and get smaller lace from them.
The local Michaels is four times the volume of A.C. Moore—double
the square footage and double the height. It likely contained four times
the merchandise as well. While A.C. Moore had clearance merchandise
scattered through the store to give it that "bargain" feel
(assuming that one considers an unfinished Native American doll for $1.54
to be a bargain), my initial reaction as a professional economist to
Michaels was "overpriced." The store had aisle after aisle of
what looked to be repackaged industrial waste in two-ounce bags selling
for a few bucks each. Crack cocaine for the crafts crowd undoubtedly. The
store was otherwise empty, including the checkout area, save a group of
fellow shoppers who were into modifying their own bodies using materials
not available at Michaels.
Even without self-studding kits, Michaels was a far deadlier place than
A.C. Moore. Next to a token sample of Revell plastic model kits—when
I was a kid entire stores were dedicated to model kits and associated
paraphernalia—I found (and captured with my cell
phone camera) a display of Estes rocket kits and engines. I remember
building one of them, but that's all I remember. Obviously, the ensuing
explosion wiped out the rest of the process—either
that or the men in black did. I still have ten fingers, two eyes, and
residual sanity, so nothing too bad could have happened.
Without the aid of the nonexistent sales personnel, I uncovered a more
extensive and pricier collection of leather crafts than at A.C. Moore. I
found the right lace, took it to the front registers, and waited for a few
minutes to consummate my purchase.
When I got the lace home, I took out my needle kit from A.C. Moore,
still a bit intimidated by the curved needles. I extracted the straight
needles and immediate noticed two things. First, the holes in my slippers
could only accommodate a single width of lace. Second, the lace did not
naturally fit through the eye of the needle. Using a hammer in combination
with needle-nose pliers, I was able to wedge the end of the lace into the
needle. It took about ten minutes to completely undo the old lace and
replace it with the new one. I started with two yards of lace and was left
with one yard after the transplant. Martha Stewart would then have
replaced the lace on the left slipper so that it would match its partner.
I am not Martha Stewart, which is why this adventure does not a Jo-Ann
store. It was simply too scary for me. I will live with mismatched
slippers until nature takes its course with them.
Next time, I'm back to dealing with media and will "review"
Pseu (that's how she spells it) Braun's summer radio show on WFMU (and wfmu.org)
and reflect on pop music and popularity in a piece called "The
Political Economy of Pop."
Copyright 2005 by Miller Risk Advisors. Permission
granted to forward by electronic means and to excerpt or broadcast 250
words or less provided a citation is made to www.millerrisk.com.