Community Voices - Krista Long

10408886 10205315515192490 303125158256278654 nQ:  What words/images would you use to describe Oberlin? 

A:  Let’s see…progressive, beautiful, historic, small town, musical.

Q: Why would you choose these words/images? 

A: Well, music because there are just so many wonderful concerts and performances going on in Oberlin with the Conservatory and the world-class musicians who come in to perform. I, myself, am especially fond of that because I’ve played a lot of music in my life. I play the piano and the cello. So, you know, it’s one of the clearest ways that Oberlin excels. It’s a beautiful small town. This part of Ohio is just so lush at this time of the year, but northern Ohio is beautiful even in the middle of winter! Small town because that’s what it is. Sometimes we like to pretend that we’re something else, more urban, and we are very cosmopolitan in some ways, but we still are a very small town in a very rural county, which we need to remember. Then there’s also the historic aspect of Oberlin and its origins, and the work that this community has done since its beginnings. 

Q: How is it that you came to open your business in Oberlin? 

A: I was born and raised in Oberlin. I went away to college and came back, not intending to stay. I worked at the Co-Op Bookstore for about ten years. After that I worked for an Wit & Wisdom in Cleveland during the heyday of the independent book sellers in the 80’s and 1990’s. Then I worked for Nacscorp here in Oberlin, part of the National Association of College Stores, as a buyer and marketing manager.  So basically, I’ve been a bookseller most of my life. When my job at NACS came to an end, I decided that used books was an aspect of bookselling that I didn’t know much about, and it seemed like a good thing to try, especially because at that time, the Co-op was dissolving. That store was closing, so it seemed appropriate to open another store, which I did, where Lupita’s is now. Shortly after that, I learned that Ben Franklin was for sale. I came in here and looked around and I saw that there was a lot of room for books—that we could move everything over and make room for books, which was what happened. It’s just been evolving ever since. Certainly, I never thought I would own Ben Franklin and have a used bookstore in it, if you’d asked me when I was your age, I would have laughed.

Q: How has the town changed since your time growing up here? If you could look 20 or 30 years into the future, what would you like to see change further (if anything)?

A: Well, there are many things that are really just the same. There are still lots of great music and art going on, it’s still a great place to raise your family; it’s still a beautiful place. How it’s changed? I feel like it’s become a little more isolated in terms of its local location and less isolated in terms of its widespread reputation. Lots more people seem to come from outside of Oberlin for various reasons—the students, the academics, the performers--historic tourism has brought a lot more people to Oberlin from around Ohio, but not just local, a bit broader than that. It’s become a little more dominated by the college than it was 40 years ago. It’s always been one of the most significant parts of the community. But I think it’s even more so today, especially considering the downtown is less retail-oriented than it used to be before the malls and big box store took their toll, being much more restaurant and entertainment-oriented. A lot of the reasons for that are the students, staff, and faculty who exist at Oberlin today.  I also don’t think the community is as diverse as it once was.

Q: Could you briefly describe the nature of your business and its function in the Oberlin community? 

A: The nature of our business is that we’re a variety store, so we sell a bunch of different things—a little bit of everything is what I commonly hear said in the store—for people who don’t want to or can’t go out of town for certain items and basic shopping for school and office supplies, beauty supplies, and household goods. Because we have such a small and concentrated mix of things, I try very hard to have a good mix of things—so we want something inexpensive and generic, something brand-name, and we want something organic, kind of to represent the different needs of people. I like to try to have a couple of choices in a lot of different areas. Another thing is that I try to offer small packages. Most people don’t want to buy 12 pens; they want to buy two pens, or maybe one. I’m still committed to the books, though it’s not what it used to be, considering how long I’ve been a bookseller, it’s at its nadir for brick and mortar stores, but we’re taking lots of great used books off of shelves in Oberlin and area residents. I like the idea that we are recycling these books back into the reading community.  I feel that used bookstores are going to survive the onslaught of mega etailers like Amazon better than some physical stores, so we keep trying to stay alive, find new ways to do business within our communities.   

Q: The word sustainability can be used to describe actions that promote the economic, social, and environmental well-being of a community. What does sustainability mean to you as an Oberlin resident and business owner? 

A: Like I said, with the books, it’s about offering reading material in a sustainable way and keeping things out of landfill and keeping things from being trashed when they’re perfectly good literature. The idea of not having to drive your car to buy merchandise and instead being able to bike or walk to get it—or, if you choose to drive, only having to drive a mile downtown to get what you need instead of loading up your car and waiting a long time to get what you need. A lot of times, I think you find that you load up on things you don’t need. For us, it’s important—to me, it’s important—to offer natural and organic, or at least low impact environmentally friendly products. I mean, I do have some products that wouldn’t fit that description, but I know that I prefer the lowest impact products that I can find, and so I like to make them available to other people. And by-and-large, it’s gotten to the point where those products are affordable and top quality. It used to be pretty pricey to buy those products and it’s not anymore. Obviously, many people like that kind of an option here, so I’m feeding the desires of our local population as well. I think the idea of keeping the money in our community is a sustainable concept as well. We pay local taxes, support our community projects, hire local folk, and tailor what we offer to our customers.  This is really what sustainability is about for me.  

 Q: What advice/tips would you offer to other business owners who are interested in adopting sustainable initiatives? 

A: First of all, there’s lots of things we can do within our business to lower your utility usage. For example, when we put in the ceiling fans it was shocking how much natural gas we saved by doing that. At one point, our furnace guy was here he aimed his temperature gage up at the ceiling, it was 85 degrees up there in the middle of the winter! So we run the fans all year round, they’re not just a cooling thing. At the same time, we also replaced our lighting—there was a state grant available—and we decided that if we were already fixing the lighting, we might as well add fans at the same time. So we did, and it’s just amazing. We also replaced the both of our entrance doors, the old front door had a huge gap. Snow would come in through that gap! Again just replacing that door, again, it has saved us lots of money on utilities. I’d love to be able to replace the windows. I can’t afford to do that and I don’t own the building, so that’s not really possible, although I am paying the utilities [laughs]! We do little things like turning the lights off when we leave the basement, recycling any trash that we can, minimizing our waste if possible, or reusing materials, selling scrap matboard instead of throwing it away.  Everybody has their own issues with their own businesses and they know their own business better than anybody else.

We have made attempts to brand the concept of “keeping it local” but it’s very hard to market the idea, and it’s something we need to do a better job of communicating. The turnover in population is high in Oberlin, you know, new students every year, and new faculty/staff, so it takes a constant and ever-changing effort.  People come to the area looking for things that are familiar, you know, brands that they know.  Where’s the Chipolte/Target/Lowe’s/fill-in-the-blank chain store? We do have most of what people need here in Oberlin, it’s just not the store they know.  So we need to do a better job of communicating that to our community.  We ALL need to support our neighbors.  Try Agave! Ben Franklin probably has that. Did you look at Ginko? Try Watson’s. This is what have to say to support our town, our neighbors.  I think for the most part, here in town, people are quite aware of the impact they’re having on the environment and they’re trying to do business in as sustainable of a manner as possible, but it really does take effort and awareness to keep it up.

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Melissa Cabat is a first year Environmental Studies major from New York City. She is also a member of the Oberlin Student Theater Association and a DJ for WOBC 91.5 FM.

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Melissa Cabat
Melissa Cabat is a first year Environmental Studies major from New York City. Sh
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