“Thank you again, Mrs. Murphy. And have a great holiday.” The well wishes that he made were sincere to his last customer as she took her small purchase and headed for the door. Still, James Tinsley couldn’t help but feel disappointed. He had opened his craft shop an hour early this day—”Small Business Saturday” the corporate credit company had dubbed it—in hopes that the Christmas shoppers would, if not flood into the store, at least trickle in steadily.
Unfortunately, it had been more like tortuous drip-dropping. Mrs. Murphy’s purchase was the exception on this day, not the rule. A few browsers had come in as well as a few of the regulars just to check in. But the big day Tinsley was expecting and counting on wasn’t going to materialize. Apparently, the crowd he had been happily imagining the previous few days were battling it out at the chain stores. Even worse, the extra hours he had arranged for this supposedly busy day would end up probably costing him more than the paltry amount he had taken in. With only about twenty minutes left until closing (“Longer Holiday Hours!” his hand-painted sign on the door exclaimed in bright red) Tinsley realized that the day would be a total bust.
Tinsley cast a sorrowful glance at Mr. Deery, the big, wooden toy reindeer in his storefront window he had carved by hand some fifteen years ago. The children had always loved seeing Mr. Deery this time of year, when Tinsley would pull the toy down from the back stockroom top shelf and give it a good dusting. Many a parent had tried to purchase the deer for their excited kids but Tinsley always refused. He had made Mr. Deery that first November after buying the old downtown store and turning it into a shop all those years ago. His wife had passed away the summer of that year and Tinsley had subsequently—as a means of coping—quit his job as an accountant and finally turned a long held dream of owning his own store into a reality.
Tinsley’s Crafts had become a second home to him, a haven, as well as a showplace to display his passion for making things and woodworking. The townspeople had responded in kind those first years, enough so that Tinsley could make a decent, if not lucrative, living in the process. Plus, the store had become a gathering place for shoppers and friends to come in, chat, gossip on occasion and generally enjoy each other’s company while making their purchases. A few of his much older customers would tell Tinsley that his store reminded them of a better time long since gone.
That was then. Now, with only a few minutes left until closing, it was just Tinsley, Mr. Deery and an empty store with displays of untouched, marked-down merchandise. Fairly typical of the entire year.
Tinsley took a last sip of cold coffee in the Santa Claus mug a grateful customer had given him last Christmas and began to make his way slowly to the back. He would go ahead and close, he thought. No point in prolonging the disappointment of a day that had begun with such promising hopes.
He was reaching for his coat after hitting the light switches to “off” when the tiny bell jingled on the front door signaling a customer.
“Mr. Tinsley, Mr.Tinsley!” cried a woman’s voice, “don’t close yet! I need to talk to you. Can you give me a minute?”
Tinsley squinted down the aisle to see Rebecca Jenkins, a young woman who, while usually a fairly regular customer, had not come in today for some odd reason. It had puzzled him earlier that afternoon why the pleasant faced Rebecca had not been in; she had promised Tinsley last week she would make it on this supposedly big day.
“Sure, Rebecca—come on in. I was wondering if I’d see you today. What can I do for you?” Tinsley tried to buck up one last time for the sake of his friend and customer. Few people realized that acting and keeping face was also part of being a business owner—especially during trying times.
“Well, it’s more like what I can do for YOU for a change,” Rebecca answered with a little laugh, swinging a large bag forward and placing it next to the cash register before giving the old store keeper a hug. “Here. A few of us in the neighborhood did a bit of cooking last night and wanted to bring by some goodies—casseroles, cookies, a little cake or two. You need to eat—we think you’ve been working too hard!” she laughed again.
“Oh, and this,” she said, reaching into her purse. “Don’t say no because we need you to do this for us although we realize it’s a little sudden.” She pulled out a check and handed it to Tinsley.
“It’s a pre-order for Tinsley’s Crafts,” Rebecca said before Tinsley could speak. “The neighborhood association needs ten reindeers like Mr. Deery for our Christmas beautification project. We’ll let you have the honor of naming them, of course,” she added. “Besides, we think Mr. Deery has been lonely up there in the window all these years every Christmas!”
Tinsley looked at the check Rebecca had handed him. It was made out to his store for $3000. She saw his shocked face and open mouth trying to form a sentence and stopped him.
“If you can’t get them all made in time, just do the best you can Mr. Tinsley,” Rebecca told him. “Look, to be frank, we see how you’ve been struggling with the business slowing down. It’s the same with all the stores downtown, really. But you’re special. You’ve been a part of us, our community, for so long now. And since you always refuse to sell Mr. Deery to any of us we’re doing now what we should have done a long time ago—we’re ordering our own!” she said.
“We appreciate you. Maybe we don’t always show it. Maybe we don’t always come in as often as we should. I guess everybody is pulling double duty these days or at least pretending to be busy,” Rebecca continued. “But we love Tinsley’s Crafts and we love you, too. Now,” she stopped momentarily and threw her purse back across her shoulder, “I must be off. More stops to make before everything closes. Busy, busy, you know! Enjoy your day off tomorrow AND the food. See you next week…”
“Thank you, so much…Rebecca,” Tinsley managed to mutter as she flew hurriedly out the door. Rebecca acknowledged him with a little backward wave of her hand and then headed into the street.
Tinsley stood at the front counter, holding the check and smelling the aroma of the food. And here I was feeling sorry for myself, he thought. There are still so many wonderful people in this town who care—both for me and the store. I’m a lucky man, indeed.
“Well, Mr. Deery,” Tinsley said aloud to his longtime companion in the window while buttoning his overcoat after a few reflective moments, “I best be getting home to eat some of this feast and start making your friends for the neighborhood. There‘s a lot of work to be done—still.”
The moonlight shone through the door as Mr. Tinsley tore the check a few times in his hands before sprinkling the shredded remains into the garbage can by the register. He grabbed his bag of food, locked the front door, checked it once and then began his walk home.
“A lot of work to be done, indeed…”
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