MARICHELLE IS BUSY AS F*CK SO KELS IS TAKING OVER.
Oh hi. Kels here. Marichelle’s partner. She's in the weeds so I’m stepping in to take over the newsletter for a bit. Bear with me, I’m a newbie to so many things around these parts.
So before I delve in, let me tell you a bit about myself. I was born in South Jersey and ran off to NYC where I lived for 20 years. I have a background in community-based arts and I’m a licensed Social Worker that has mainly worked with the LGBTQ+ community. Recently those held in custody at Rikers and before that, LGBTQ+ youth.
Nearly two years ago I met Marichelle and wound up visiting Maplewood with increasing frequency until I eventually took the plunge and moved out here. Like many people in the community, I came by the way of Brooklyn but the thing is, I had no fucking clue about this place! I would tell locals, “Yeah, I live/lived in Brooklyn…,” and their eyes would glaze over and regard me as yet another transplant. The weird East Coast ego in me would scream, “Yeah but, I was born in NJ! And I’m only out here because I met someone on a dating app!” My superego muscles work hard in those moments but please know I feel very lucky that I discovered an incredible community here in Maplewood as an added bonus of falling in love with an amazing person.
Ok, now that we’re all caught up with the broad strokes of moi and how I wound up here, I’d like to chat about how my relationship with Marichelle has extended itself to being immersed in MEUS. Because of this I have gained a unique and unexpected perspective from her beautiful shop. So now I’d like to share with you my extraordinarily naive take on business with a TOP TEN LIST OF:
I had no idea that --->
#1…this shit ain’t easy in a global pandemic. I mean, of course. I’m not that naive. NOTHING has been easy with this virus seemingly very into cross training and coming back with a periodic new flex. Gaining an insight through Marichelle’s struggles owning and running a small business has taught me that pivoting without a safety net that the larger names are often equipped with means there is a heavy reliance on existing customers. But it feels weird to say customers when they’re really relationships. Much like the ways we all relied on our neighbors through the pandemic, the same goes for small businesses and within that, the vulnerability and intimacy that comes through with something so personally shared with the public. Because MEUS is personal. Which brings me to…
#2…it’s personal. Marichelle will never give herself enough credit to claim her very natural community organizing skills. And as a community organizer myself, I also know her reluctance to wear that crown makes her an even better community organizer. Because MEUS is a labor of love where the context of its location is where it rooted and grew organically with the community. Marichelle cares deeply about the connective tissue of Maplewood Village and how fragile it can be. I’ve been a regular at plenty of places in my old location of Brooklyn and kind of got a sense of this collectivity of small businesses in different neighborhoods but never saw it this close and personal. One day while helping Marichelle at the shop, it hit me, MEUS is truly an extension of her. I would always “feel” something in certain shops whether it felt warm and sincere vs. cold and overly curated. Sincerity. You can’t fake it.
#3…this comes with a lot of baggage. You will be transporting boxes, furniture, bags, etc. NON. FUCKING. STOP. I remember one time Marichelle and I had to go to a place in Newark where some shipments were held up and every other street was under construction to the point that the GPS started on Lexapro.
#4…this requires multiple occupations. With MEUS I see Marichelle wearing so many hats including artist, director, bookkeeper, copywriter, photographer, buyer/seller, consultant, designer, HR, security etc. I think many people that embark in a career that is carved out on their own terms, especially the creative types, find themselves in this conundrum. I was an artist assistant years ago and I remember the artist I worked for just melting down one day saying, “I didn’t know this was going to require me to run a business.” I mean, no shit! Now I can’t imagine knowingly starting a business and then the moment of realization that you have to simultaneously buy inventory, tell the asshole that’s harassing you about their parking spot next to your shop to fuck off, pick up the kids from school, finish looking over a contract and make perfect bouquets of dried flowers for customer orders......
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#5…this is a magnet for community and kindness. This is contingent on the reciprocation of humility and kindness. I didn’t really get to see the socializing that occurred at MEUS before the pandemic but I did often hear people express how much they missed being in the shop and just remaining there to talk, mingle, relax, meet someone, check out what’s new in the shop and with Marichelle and the employees. I understood that sadness and understood it deeply as someone that was growing closer to Marichelle during the beginning stages of everyone trying to navigate a way to move forward. And Marichelle did all of this with grace, kindness and humility. I admire that about her, especially when I have relied on my resting sociopath face when commuting in NYC for over 20 years to keep all people at bay. Even when I recognize someone I like. I talk to no one on commutes. NO ONE. ;
#6…this is fucking HARD in a cis, heteronormative, capitalistic, white supremacist world. When you go into business with all intentions of standing in your integrity, that is really fucking difficult when systems are stacked against you. In Maplewood, sure, it seems that there is a lot of local support and there is quite a lot of relative financial stability, let’s be real. Many small business owners in the area have some security whether that is with multiple household incomes, safety nets and basic privileges that put you ahead due to the aforementioned unearned privileges. This isn’t to invalidate the hustle, just some have to do more than others. Marichelle certainly has many previous and current advantages to owning a business. And while the community in Maplewood is left-leaning, being an Asian, Queer, cis-Woman, single Mother of three and becoming financially independent after being in a stable partnership with her ex-husband, really makes it inherently difficult even in the best of circumstance. Smear a relentless virus and typical day-to-day life bullshit right up on that and try to not want to take a nap. And you know what her answer to all of this is? Mother-fucking-expand. She is BOSS.❤️
#7…you need to compartmentalize the hell out of your emotions in order to responsibly care about what you do and who you do it for. I know that perspective may come a lot from my social work experience but I truly didn’t know the emotional capacity needed to run a business. Especially a small business in a tight-knit community. But then I remembered the time I bawled while saying goodbye to Sal, my favorite local bodega owner, when I moved out of the neighborhood. I still miss him to this day because he was so kind and sweet to me on the daily when I popped in sometimes numerous times a day to grab coffee, cat food, emergency tampons etc. I’ve seen so many heartfelt moments at MEUS when customers shared very personal information with Marichelle. In this context, it’s not customer service, it’s genuine care. And she’ll look at me at the end of the day and say, “I don’t know why I’m so tired, it’s not like I ran a marathon.” People who care deeply hold more weight and it’s difficult to detect when to place some things down, especially when the assumption is “it’s not like running a marathon” underestimates how much energy is being expended. I’m sure in many places, there isn’t an emotional exchange. However, the community truly cares and understands this to the extent that customers reach out when there’s a hardship or congratulate Marichelle when there’s a win. MEUS related or not.
#8…you basically have to be brave and a wee bit nuts to start a small business. You need to be able to take risks with equal parts tenacity and fear. It feels that no matter how much research, foundational resources, financial security, etc, there is always a risk that starting a small business will fail. That’s just the reality of it. The stats are up against you and especially if you fall further and further away from a cis white male demographic. And we need that. We deeply, deeply need that to change the landscape. And an extremely easy way to do that is to buy from and support BIPOC-owned business.
#9…“small business” has a pretty specific definition.The Small Business Administration (SBA) defines a small business as a firm that has fewer than 500 employees. Nor did I know just how massively significant small businesses are as drivers of the US economy.The latest statistics show that there are 32.5 million small businesses in the US, which account for 99.9 percent of all US businesses and create the majority of jobs. According to the SBA, small companies create 1.5 million jobs annually and account for 64 percent of new jobs created in the US. And yet have the least amount of protective policies such as the Family Leave Act which doesn’t apply to businesses with fewer than 50 employees. And for Worker’s Compensation, some states exempt small businesses with 5 or fewer employees, while some offer no exemption at all. .which isn’t surprising (see # 6). On that note,support businesses and services led by formerly incarcerated people.
#10…it’s pretty fucking great being in a relationship with a boss. And the kind of boss that genuinely cares, is confident and humble, looks out for her employees, vendors, community and is constantly evolving, growing and learning. As someone that has worked for a number of insecure narcissists in both the art world and not for profit world, it is absolutely something I appreciate deeply about Marichelle. I am beyond grateful that this is something we share as people deeply invested emotionally in our respective careers.
So as we exit this newsletter and Women’s History Month, here’s some related stuff:
Currently watching: Yellowjackets! It’s. Got. Everything: Passes the Bechdel test with flying fucking colors, Queer, Juliet Lewis, Women’s Soccer (also inherently Queer) and Lord of the Flies vibes!
Currently reading: The Trouble With White Women by Kyla Schuller
In The Trouble with White Women, Schuller brings to life the two-hundred-year counter history of Black, Indigenous, Latina, poor, queer, and trans women pushing back against white feminists and uniting to dismantle systemic injustice.
Currently listening to/bonus watching: Poly Styrene/Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché
Poly Styrene was the first woman of colour in the UK to front a successful rock band. She introduced the world to a new sound of rebellion, using her unconventional voice to sing about identity, consumerism, postmodernism, and everything she saw unfolding in late 1970s Britain, with a rare prescience. As the frontwoman of X-Ray Spex, the Anglo-Somali punk musician was also a key inspiration for the riot grrrl and Afropunk movements.
Watch the recent doc!
Current local love: Raven’s Quill
Charlie and Ant are excellent tattoo artists and owners of Raven’s Quill in Maplewood.
For AGES I wanted a rendering of a self-portrait by one of my favorite artists, Käthe Kollwitz (badass German Expressionist and Anti-War Activist). Many artists seemed to shy away from replicating a print but Charlie stepped up to the plate and I’m so fucking happy he did. Take a look at that beauty!
The next newsletter won’t be nearly as long. But one more thing. I made this collage of me and Marichelle if we were small poodles. Until next time, enjoy: