Old Friends and New Friends

tortoiseshell cat by rack

"Where did all my stuff go?"

I visited the Agway farm store today where I usually buy my cat food, bird seed and outdoor tools and plants and seeds for my garden, as well as restock my displays of greeting cards and gift items.

two cats

Gambit and Tabatha nap in the shade.

But today was not the day to seek out Gambit and Tabatha’ latest hiding spot, or visit a cage of stray or feral kittens on their way to being socialized and bound for loving adoptive homes.

The store is closing, has in fact closed, and I went to pack up my stuff and buy what I could from the merchandise that was left.

Agway stores and similar farm supply stores provided farms with specific products that couldn’t be found any other place. As the number of both working and hobby farms has decreased in Allegheny County, the clientele has decreased, and even with picking up home, garden and pet supplies, a small shop can’t compete with the big box stores.

kittens front

Four kittens, two from each litter.

But the big box stores don’t rescue stray kittens and cats, nor do they sell your home-canned pickles and apple butter, nor the eggs produced by the chicks you bought from them last year and raised with help from others who shop there and know about hens and roosters.

And if someone in a big box has to make their quota of sales or work in three unrelated departments they don’t have the time to stand around for 15 minutes and discuss the relative merits of applying organic dormant oil on your apple trees in either October or November, or explain to someone how to set out little flat containers of stale beer around your garden at night to trap slugs instead of spreading toxic slug pellets and risk your dog eating them. In fact, it’s rare you’ll find someone in big boxes who even knows about these things—not unheard of, but very rare. And the time spent to explain something is often frowned upon, from what I hear.

shelves of preserves

Shelves of homemade preserves and local honey.

I won’t rail about big boxes, but it’s the communication part that is missing, and that’s what’s always been so important to me in these smaller stores. I have so enjoyed the conversations every time I’ve stopped there through the years, helping people with problems and questions with their cats and pets in general, suggesting books and websites to use for reference, constantly posting information on spay and neuter clinics and rabies clinics which people regularly used and passed on to their friends. And dispensing information and learning new on gardening and landscaping without using toxic chemicals.

bag balm at the agway

Bag Balm at the Agway.

Through the years I’ve also purchased seeds and plants and sold my own seedlings and plants at this store, those started from my organic seeds and from cuttings for vegetables, landscaping flowers and houseplants. At the holidays as well, I’d take in my handmade grapevine wreaths decorated with dried goldenrod and asters and garlands and swags of spruce trimmed from my trees, decorated with hand-tied bows, in addition to baskets and other creations inspired by nature’s forms and shapes. These small forms of income have not only been important to me, but have been a traditional form of trade in communities for centuries.

Guess who really runs the store?

Just as important as “communication” is “community”, and that’s what these small stores have always been, a community of people who share information, needs and income. I will miss not only the steady supply of small income I’ve gained from there—which usually went right back in for my cat food and bird seed and other supplies—I will miss the lives of the people I’ve gotten to know and even sharing my art and merchandise with them. It may seem incongruous, but this store had the best sales of any for my greeting cards in particular. I think, in part, people liked to buy them because they knew me as well as appreciating the designs and sentiments of the cards and the convenience of having them where they regularly shopped.

cat on shelf and cat in box

Tabatha tries to move Gambit with her tortitude.

Gambit and Tabatha have a new home where they’ll be able to safely live indoors and out as they are accustomed. The shop is just about empty.

But a community takes care of its members, and Don, the manager for years, told me to visit “The Barn” just a short distance away, which sells plants, decorative lawn and landscaping materials and gift items and see if they’d be interested in my merchandise. I stopped there on my way back from the Agway and the woman already knew me and Don had already given her my business card.

cat toys and beds

Cat Toys and Beds for Donation.

I have a love-hate relationship with retail. I love to create my artwork and even to create the derivative items from it like cards and notepads and prints, and the best way to get my artwork known is to create and sell these things, but it takes time to drive around and visit shops, introduce myself, deliver the goods and maintain a display. The actual sales from this might break even for expenses and time, but the real benefit is in finding new customers. Finding a shop where I also have other reasons to visit just makes it better.

So this weekend I’ll be setting up my display in the big old unheated barn which is a totally cool space with so many neat things that I have a hard time getting out of there, and it’s managed by the congenial Kathy and an enthusiastic rescued chocolate lab named Irish Malarkey.

And there’s another constant—animals and animal rescue. One door closes and another one opens as our friends share us with their friends. It is not a loss and a gain, but simply a change.

Click this link for an archive of articles I’ve written and photos I’ve posted about my favorite Agway store (some are repeated).

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All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used in any way without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


9 Comments on “Old Friends and New Friends”

  1. […] had been selling at was friends with Kathy, The Barn’s owner, and simply went to her and said I’d be over with my things, she’d like them and me. Life should be filled with such friends. The orange Shelf […]

  2. Chad says:

    There is another Agway in the area. Imperial Agway is about 10 min from this store and is a little bit bigger. There are 3 cats inside and 2 that are a little more wild, but fixed. You can find more info at http://www.imperialagway.com

    Chad

    • animalartist says:

      Thanks, Chad–Don told me about the place, and as soon as I get my things settled into The Barn I’ll be out to visit (I stocked up on stuff before Don closed). Several other patrons are kind of lost and considering Portman’s, but that’s way too far and too much traffic. I’m glad to see you have a site as well! I’ll be glad to meet a few new kitties as well, something more to write about!

  3. […] we talked about my car full of stuff (still hadn’t completely unpacked my car from the Agway visit Tuesday), I mentioned that I got my cat food at the Agway, and she said excitedly she had two cats and was […]

  4. This one hit home on so many levels, Bernadette –the world IS the less for the loss of these places. The ones that remain need to be celebrated and supported. Thanks for the beautiful piece and timely reminder.

  5. Sue says:

    That’s such a shame about the little mom and pop stores being pushed out by the Big Box stores. I don’t live out in the country but my mom came from PA from a small town and she used to tell me about all the great little stores but her town probably isn’t the same anymore. I hope those little kitties find homes. I would love to scoop up the little orange one sitting up and looking straight you camera.

    Sue (Luna and Nikita’s mom)

    • animalartist says:

      Sue, even my home town of Carnegie isn’t the same, though much of the structure is there. I don’t care for big impersonal places, and I like to feel I’m giving my due which you can in small communities.

      Those kittens are from last year, I think–and it’s a good thing. It was always tempting with all those wonderful kittens in there, and the beautiful adult cats even moreso. Everyone found a home, and many of their new owners brought back photos and stories, so there’s at least that to remember

  6. lostdogharry says:

    Bernadette, I’m sad to hear of Agway’s demise, and wish only the best for Don and crew. I’ve followed with longing your stories of Agway and the cats, and now am sorry that I’ll never have the chance to experience it first hand.


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