Welcome to Boston Mamas Rock! – where we’re giving a voice to fabulous local mamas from all walks of life. Read on for today’s interview with Susan Dorson & Amy Weitzman, two local moms on a mission to save their community library and provide parents with an eco-friendly, affordable shopping option via The Little Fox Shop. Then go ahead and nominate yourself or a friend!
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Susan Dorson & Amy Weitzman, co-founders of The Little Fox Shop
Christine: Welcome, Susan and Amy! You were nominated for this feature because of the work you have done to start The Little Fox Shop at the Edith Fox Branch Library in East Arlington, where all proceeds go to support the library (whose doors have been on the verge of closing for some time due to budget cuts). Now, everyone (present company included) talks about the importance of preserving local libraries, but your efforts truly walk the walk. What inspired you to action to help save the Fox Branch?
Susan: I have always loved the Fox Library but when I was pregnant with my first son, I would take daily walks up to the Fox and chat with the librarians and it became a part of my life. After my son was born, there were days when I was very lonely but I knew that my local library was a place I could find people to talk to - and of course books. The thing about a branch library is that it is more than just a place to get books; it is a community gathering place. Owing in part to the smaller population that the Fox serves, you can see the same faces each week, you can network and go to events, and it becomes central to your life. I couldn't see this taken away from me, my children, or my neighborhood. The main branch is wonderful but to be able to walk into a place and have everybody know your name....well, that's special.
Amy: When Susan asked me be to part of a new children's secondhand store inside the library, I didn't hesitate to join her. I have always loved libraries and seriously considered becoming a school librarian a few years ago, but was disheartened when I saw that librarian positions were being eliminated at many schools around the country. Running the shop to save my local library seemed like the next best thing to me. Susan informed me that Arlington elementary schools no longer have librarians. The Fox Library will be the best way for my children to access the wealth of knowledge that librarians have on children's books and reading. That really motivated me. Also, the recycling aspect of the Little Fox is tremendously important to both Susan and me. When you buy a recycled item from the Little Fox instead of new from another store, the earth smiles.
Christine:How difficult was it to get this effort going? What was the rough timetable from conception to opening? Did the town of Arlington help with startup funds to spruce up the space and get your website going or was it all pieced together through friends and family? Some combination of both?
Susan & Amy: Getting the Little Fox started took a lot of thinking and planning. The time from conception to opening was about 8 weeks. One of our most important goals was to create an atmosphere in which people would enjoy shopping and volunteering. We didn't receive any funds from the town, but they gave us the space and free reign over it. Almost nothing in the shop was purchased new. One of us would spy a good shelf on the curb for trash and haul it over to the shop. We would have "pizza night" at the store and our husbands and children would come and they would play while we worked. Friends would come with us to the shop and help us get ready for the opening as well. Susan has a really good eye for store design and has done most of the arranging and decorating of our physical space. Amy worked in advertising and software development before she had children, so she was able to create our website and organizes our online schedule of volunteers. Our different skill sets compliment each other very well.
One of the inspirations for the Little Fox was the PTO Thrift Store, which operated in the basement of the Fox Library for four years. It was a great success and many people in Arlington were sad to see it closing. They sold anything and everything, but we love and need kid stuff and decided to focus exclusively on children's items. We opened the same month the PTO Thrift Store closed, and they generously gave us many of their racks and shelving. Also, the librarians at both the Fox and Robbins Libraries have been wonderfully helpful and supportive.
Christine: What used to live in the space where The Little Fox shop now resides? Did you take before and after photos? From a design perspective, what transformed the space from (presumably) dingy storage space to what your nominator called a “hip thrift shop”?
Susan & Amy: The space most recently held the Arlington Early Intervention program, which moved about a year ago. I don't think we have any before pictures, but it wasn't very appealing when we took over the space. While we wanted to repaint the entire space, that was one thing were weren't allowed to do, so it was all about distracting the eye from the beat-up beige walls; we used paintings, colorful decorations that hang from the wall and ceiling, and the items we are selling tend to come in bold, bright colors so that helps, too. We put stuffed animals out as decorations and created a clothesline on our most prominent wall to display seasonal items; right now we have Halloween costumes on that wall.
Christine: You sell kids' clothing, toys, baby gear, and maternity clothes. What have been some of your favorite, most amazing finds to walk in the door?
Amy: It's funny, the best "finds" are very personal. I love stuffed animals that are characters from books and get excited when a new one comes in, like Madeline or Snoopy.
Susan: I love when great gear shows up, like an almost new jogging stroller or a highly sought after Bumbo seat. I also get very excited about great books and particularly cute girls clothes (as I have two boys, I enjoy the chance to see all of the great girls things)! We recently got a Thomas Train table and I am waiting to see how long that will last.
Christine: Your nominator wrote, “Since opening this summer, Amy and Susan have opened a beautiful retail space, organized a small army of volunteers, and raised over $7,000!” Are you aware of what that money actually funds (e.g., staff, longer library hours, utilities, etc.)? Meaning, roughly, what does it take to keep a small but thriving branch library open for business?
Susan & Amy: The library costs approximately $90,000 per year to operate, although closing it wouldn't save the town nearly that much, as most of the salary costs of the senior staff positions would simply be transferred to the cost of operating the main library. Our goal is to raise enough money to keep the town from considering The Fox a liability.
Christine: Clearly, your efforts are paying off and the shop is growing. Where are your greatest areas of need for volunteers? How can people get involved to help? What kind of commitment is involved?
Susan & Amy: We are constantly amazed at the quality and dedication of our volunteers, but we can always use more. Since many of the volunteers who run the shop are also moms, their availability can change at a moment's notice; when something in their household changes, whether it is a shift in childcare arrangements or a new job for themselves or their partner. We also have a few retired people working at the shop and they are a great help since they are able to work hours that are difficult for those with young families to volunteer (like pickup time at the elementary schools). Working at the Little Fox is fun! If you worked retail as a young person, running the register can bring back memories. For retired people, the Little Fox can be a low-key workplace and a place to socialize. Our volunteers work as little as once a month for a couple of hours or 2-3 hours each week; it's completely up to them. See the volunteer page of our website for more information on volunteering at the shop.
Christine: You’re both mothers of two children. How do you juggle your efforts with The Little Fox Shop with parenting? Do your children come to work with you?
Susan & Amy: Susan often brings her children to the store while she works. Sometimes she lets them borrow books or small toys from the shop as an incentive, but most of the time they are happy to be there since it's a toy store where they can play with all of the toys! Amy is able to work in the store with her older daughter who is 4 1/2, but not very well with her younger girl, who is 18 months old (she likes to wander out the door)! Amy's husband works at home, so she often runs over to the store during her younger daughter's nap or works the evening shift on Wednesday while her husband makes dinner and puts the kids to bed. The summer was a challenging time to start the store since our kids were home with us full-time, but now that we have volunteers running the store much of the time, things have gotten much easier for us and our families. And it helps that we both live within walking distance of the store.
Christine: I truly find your efforts so commendable and I wonder whether one or both of you have strong roots in community service. Is this work part of a long history of helping others?
Susan & Amy: We definitely love to help others. Susan's background is in Macro Social Work, which means working with groups and populations on issues that they face; one facet of that is community organizing of which there is a strong element at the Little Fox. For the past 2 years, Amy has been running the Arlington Parents List, an email list with over 1500 local parents. Before that, she taught a basic computer skills class for low-income mothers. We also have a strong interest in recycling, and the fact that we are helping families to reuse and recycle is important to us.
Christine: We’ve talked exclusively about The Little Fox Shop until now. We’d love to know more about you both; give us a snapshot of your history and interests.
Susan: A snapshot of my history? That is tough. OK, very quick. I grew up the daughter of two ministers learning about helping to give to our community and protecting our world. In college I majored in psychology and then afterwards worked in children's theater with a focus on social issues. As I said before, my graduate degree is in Macro Social Work (from BU). My interests are making everything around me better....maybe that is too ambitious?! In reality I love to read, camp, bike, and go on adventure with my family. I love to be challenged and am relishing my experiences in starting a non-profit!
Amy: I grew up in Texas and California, but came to Boston as a freshman at BU. I majored in English Literature but added a Computer Science minor at the last minute so I'd be able to find a job when I graduated! My husband and I love to travel and have tried to continue to explore the world, even though we now take up more than one row on an airplane. I enjoy making paper collage and reading crafty blogs. I also have been known to stay up half the night reading a book. Text the word "novel" to the number 41411 to get a list of my favorite books. Try it, it really works!
Christine: And finally, what’s your favorite thing about being a Boston mama?
Susan: As a Boston mama I love the fact that there is so much to do. I can take my children to festivals, fairs, concerts, and museums or just bike on the Esplanade, sail on lakes and rivers, or explore the parks. If you can't find something to do or somewhere to go, you simply aren't trying hard enough!
Amy: Playgrounds and sandwiches. I'm not kidding, Boston has the best sandwiches. We love to get a great sandwich and eat it while the kids play at the playground. Most of our favorite places for sandwiches are in Cambridge, but we have been known to get a pizza and walk to Spy Pond right here in Arlington and watch the sun go down as the girls play with stones on the edge of the water.
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Know a fabulous local mama? Nominate yourself or someone else to be featured!