Founding a Future

by Mark Bitterman

Why are we here?  Soul searching is difficult for all of us, which is why we rarely do it.  It's even harder for a small company—just a handful of merchants!  The Meadow has been on this planet for going on 14 years now.  The world around us has changed for sure, in ways wonderful and not so much.  We’ve changed too. 

Some of the zany fearlessness that defined our wildly unwise selection of products (salt, chocolate bars, bitters, flowers… seriously?) has been edged out by an earnest belief that some of the most wonderful discoveries can lurk in the most elemental things. Teeter-tottering between yearning and wisdom, wild abandon and thoughtful planning, newness and tradition, unpredictability and expectation — that’s gotta be the heartbeat of any personal passion. And The Meadow is no different.  We find balance not in staying still, but in constant movement. 

Our little shop on a lonely north Portland street has been joined by three sister shops in New York, Tokyo, and Portland’s Nob Hill neighborhood.  We’ve been featured in press ranging from The New York Times to The Guardian, from Fox to MSNBC, from The Atlantic to Rachael Ray, from The Splendid Table to All Things Considered, from Bizarre Foods to Scraps.  Fortune 500 have companies taken a look under the hood of our discoveries in food and flavor, and we’ve chilled with institutions like Monell Chemical Senses Center and The Smithsonian.  I’ve had the good fortune to get five books published, and even nabbed a James Beard Award for one of them.  

And yet... we’re still a dinky little oddball shop. Mom and Pop. Press doesn't keep shops open, you.  Only customers.  Every day that we pull back the gauzy curtains, open our doors, put some buckets of flowers by the benches out front, we are saying more than any amount of media blitz and bling. 

Which brings us to the present.  “More than 8,600 stores are closing in 2019 as the retail apocalypse drags on.”  102 million square feet of retail closed in 2017.  155 million square feet in 2018 (CoStar Group).

Ski the Mall

Like a giant new continent emerging from the ocean, a single online retailer is shifting the face of our planet forever.  And where are all the people going along with it?  At times it seems like the very world around us seems to be vanishing has vanished into Snapchat and Instagram Stories.  And yet thanks to you, here we are.   425sq/ft on N. Mississippi Ave. 450 square feet on Hudson St.  505 square feet on NW 23rd.  320 square feet in Shinjuku Station.  

Back in 2009 when I was writing my first book, I went to a food writer's symposium (now defunct) at a gangly sprawling resort called The Greenbrier — “America's Resort since 1778!”  The general consensus there was that books were dead.  Happily, unlike the symposium itself, the defunctness of books was greatly exaggerated.  Adult nonfiction for example, has actually increased.  Who knew?  Paper still exists.  Butter was never replaced by margarine.  Retail shops will be here in the future. 

The question is, what will that future look like? With so many stores shuttered, what will our streets look like?  With so much commerce happening in the soulless sea of a flickering blue screen, what will happen in the absence of all that hubbub?  Rubbing elbows.  Tripping over strollers. Smiling hello.  Petting puppies.  Loosing helium balloons.  Knocking things over.  Snarfing truffle-salted popcorn.  Shaking hands.  Saying goodbye.  Customers and store owners and looky-loos and manufacturers all knocking together socializing and squabbling and discovering and swooning in that small physical square of reality known as a shop.  What will your life look like with so many of those physical spaces gone?  Different, that’s for sure.

So, going back to basics, “Why are we here?”  Meadowlings.  Humble merchants proud of a pretty little shop.  That’s the purpose of this here blog.  To tell The Meadow’s story.  To share our learning. To explore, test, and air our beliefs.  The future is going to be real, and it’s going to bring challenges, and in the truest and fullest sense of the word, it’s going to be wonderful.  In this blog and in our shops, we’ll try to give shape to that vision!

--Mark Bitterman




The Meadow Mississippi in Snow


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