I have a confession to make: I possess a crippling phobia of artisans at craft fairs, farmers at farmers markets, and owners of small shops. I have come to affectionately refer to them as “booth people.”
Essentially, I am afraid of being in small, enclosed spaces with anyone who wants to sell me something. Unfortunately, this fear seems to crop up regardless of how much I may or may not want to purchase their wares.
I’ve felt this way for as long as I can remember, but I think it probably began when I was living in New York City in my early 20s, frequenting street fairs with no intention of buying anything at all. I was flat broke, browsing among displays of pottery, artwork, and tables piled high with hot-pink, leopard-print granny panties.
Whether dodging verbal attacks from aggressive vendors or being disheartened by my inability to support truly exquisite artists, every encounter was a source of stress.
So I was beyond dismayed when my 3-year-old son recently dragged me through the door of Meg and Bret MacFadyen’s Art and Invention Gallery on Woodland Street. “Can we go in there? Can we?” My heart pounded with dread. This was a recipe for disaster. I didn’t have my wallet with me, so even if I wanted to buy something, I couldn’t.
We stepped inside and I was relieved to find a solid contingent of five or six people browsing casually. Meg was deep in conversation with one of them. I sized her up. She was sinister in her overalls and red T-shirt. We steered clear, making our way around the perimeter of the store, which I am ashamed to admit I had only visited one time in the nine years I’ve lived just blocks away.
As my son honed in on a handknit teddy bear, I attempted to avoid a pair of earrings that embodied everything I adore about twisted metal. I don’t fall in love with clothing or jewelry very often, but there was no denying those earrings. If I didn’t buy them, I would be thinking about them for the next six months. The pull was too great. I was going to have to speak to the overalls lady.
I ventured an overly casual comment, nosing in on her conversation about gardening, of which I know nothing. My anxiety was approaching a fever pitch when my son chimed in, wanting to know if she had any “real” animals in the shop that he could hold. Unphased, Meg got down on his level with stories of kitty rescues and free candy.
She had no agenda. I don’t think she really cared whether we were planning to buy anything or not. She was just there, welcoming the community into her second home, one of many local artists and small business owners who make up the heart and soul of this neighborhood.
I’m the idiot who has been going to the mall for the past nine years, bemoaning the fact that everything seems to be made of either plastic or polyester. I shop on Etsy but am always unsure what will arrive by mail. Meanwhile, in an alternate universe just steps from my house, an artisan mecca was waiting for me all along, a paradise populated with every gift I could ever hope to give. Did I mention I’m an idiot?
We came back the next day for the bear and earrings, and I managed to make small talk without my blood pressure going sky high.
My eyes have been opened, and there’s no turning back from here. I’ve always known there are hundreds of adorable, small shops scattered throughout East Nashville, but I convinced myself I wasn’t missing much by avoiding them.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. They’re doing fine with or without my 50 bucks – and with good reason. The stuff they’re selling is exquisite. I’m the one who was losing out by not supporting them.
I have resolved to crush my phobia with immersion therapy, one shop at a time. East Side Story is next on my list, and maybe someday, if things get wacky, I’ll make it more than four inches through the door at Any Old Iron. I may need reinforcements for that one, though. It’s way over on Shelby Street with less reliable foot traffic. I’ll have to bring the 3-year-old along for cover, in case the situation demands a hasty exit.
Sarah Hays Coomer is a certified personal trainer, nutrition coach, and prenatal fitness instructor. She kinda likes to exercise, kinda not, and loves all things sugared, salted, fried, or dipped in dark chocolate. She runs a free wellness group in East Nashville for anyone looking to raise a glass to good health, and her book on wellness will be published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2016. You can find her at www.strengthoutsidein.com or on twitter @strengthoutside.