(Jan. 22, 2012) – One of my new favorite books is Tom Peter’s “The Little Big Things.” I heard Tom speak about the book a couple of years ago at Debbie Weil’s “Sweets & Tweets” event at Baked & Wired in Georgetown. Tom was everything I imagined he would be in person – and so was the book.
The essential premise of the book is that often the small things that happen between people become the things we tend to remember most vividly. Interactions that are unique, personal, intimate and often unexpected stay with us long after we have forgotten many other things. Tom posits that it’s these small things that feed relationships, engender loyalty to businesses, and sometimes change the course of history.
Such a “little big thing” happened today at Young’s Dry Cleaners on Fairfax Boulevard in Fairfax City. Julia’s family took over the dry cleaner’s in 2004. It’s within walking distance of my house in Fairchester Woods and over the years I’ve developed a very friendly relationship with Julia and her mother – the only person I trust with my alterations.
I called Julia this morning to see if her mother would be there because I needed some pants hemmed and the sleeves shortened on a jacket. It snowed last night and the streets were messy so I wasn’t sure her mom would be there. Julia assured me she could do the pinning and she would be there until they closed tonight at 7 pm.
It was a slow day at the dry cleaners and as Julia pinned my clothes, I told her I had decided to run for Fairfax City Council. She was very excited about that. As I changed into my jeans, I heard a customer come in and Julia asked if he lived in Fairfax City. He said he did, and then Julia proceeded to campaign for me by telling him one of her customers was running for City Council.
I stepped out of the dressing room and Julia introduced me to Bob, another of her long time customers. We shook hands and began talking about the city. Bob has lived here since 1961, he works on the Hill, has raised two children here and has a lot to say on many subjects. In that, we were well matched. As we stood there talking, a few customers came in and Julia helped them with their dry cleaning. Bob & I lost track of time standing there chatting. Julia offered to hang up the clean shirts he was holding after awhile and offered for us to sit down. Bob let her hang up the shirts, but we both declined to sit as we thought we would (or at least should) be going soon.
Before we knew it, Julia appeared with a teapot and two cups and offered us steaming hot cups of green tea. A most unexpected turn of events! We accepted the tea – which was very good – and continued talking. By this time we had moved on in subjects to his son who graduated from Fairfax High School in ’03, and my daughters who graduated in ’04 and ’05.
I honestly couldn’t tell you how long we stood there, but we drained the teapot and eventually we told Julia good-bye. Bob shook my hand and then hers and said, “This is the first time I’ve ever been served tea in a dry cleaners.”
After he left, Julia printed up my ticket for the alterations and talked about how she always wanted to have a place where people could meet and talk just the way Bob & I had done that afternoon. I confessed that if I could pluck any businesses out of the air to open in Fairfax, it would be something like Busboys & Poets on 14th & V Sts. in DC. I’ve always loved that place – a combination bookstore, bar & restaurant, a stage and private room for showing documentaries, poetry readings, and meetings. A place for people to meet, mingle, talk and create. It’s a little funky, very eclectic and full of energy.
Life is rarely ideal. Waiting for the perfect time, the perfect circumstance, the perfect place – it’s a fool’s game. Often it’s a matter of making the best of what you have. A dry cleaners was transformed today by two cups of tea. “I’ve never been served tea in a dry cleaners.” Sometimes a small thing makes a very big impression.