Champion: Poor David’s/Heavenly Outhouse

A Tale of Two Shops

By Karrie Peace

As the owner of two local businesses, Karrie Peace was a welcome addition to the Cochrane Sustainability Plan’s list of Champions.  Karrie is committed to sustainability initiatives through both of her businesses.  She strives to help create a brighter future for our community.

The Heavenly Outhouse offers a unique collection of gifts, from furniture and art to jewelry, bath and bed items and everything in between.

Located right next door is Poor David’s, focusing on cards, books and gift items.

The Heavenly Outhouse organizes the annual Cochrane Outhouse Races to raise money for the Cochrane Food Bank, with the big day typically scheduled for the last Saturday in September.

Karrie shares her perspective on why sustainability is important – and how all of us can make a difference, no matter how daunting the odds may appear at first glance.

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It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. It was the age of prosperity. It was a cycle of recession. And here I was, the owner of two shops on Main Street Cochrane, riding the rollercoaster ups and downs that are the essence of the great RETAIL sector.

I’m going to tell the story of how The Heavenly Outhouse and Poor David’s became involved with the Cochrane Sustainability Plan. There is so much possibility in retail, so much connection at so many levels, the average consumer is unlikely to imagine how many ripples a single purchase in a little shop like one of mine can send out. There is also so much waste, so much room for improvement embedded in the accepted and blind practices that pervade the entire industry, it would bring the even toughest of the capitalist crusaders to their knees.

And here is the truth (I risk a great deal of judgment by revealing this truth): I AM one of those capitalist crusaders, still believing that a free market economy will eventually regulate change towards sustainability through competition (and with a little help from organizations like SPUR and initiatives like the Cochrane Sustainability Plan). So picture me in the receiving bay at the back of the shops, holding a palm size whatsit that came out of a plastic bag, packed in a box surrounded by paper, packed in another box surrounded by a gajillion Styrofoam peanuts keeping the other whatsits in the other boxes packed in the box from bumping against each other, and I’m on my knees. Ugh.

Now don’t assume I don’t see the big picture: addressing this kind of blatant waste is only one aspect of sustainability. Sustainability is about embracing every avenue that leads to efficiency, eco-efficiency being one piece of the puzzle, but the boxes and the paper and the plastic and the Styrofoam are such a perfect, concrete symbol for everything that works against all of us in the retail industry. We are lucky to have a world-class recycling plant in our small community, but I knew from the start that all of our best efforts to break-down, sort and transport anything that could be recycled were simply not the best solution—I spent enough time on field trips to every kind of waste treatment operation as a Social Studies teacher to have seen with my own eyes the enormity of the resources expended in the recycling process.

I have to say I felt quite overwhelmed with how difficult it appeared it would be to change anything in this whole complex system, not just all the waste materials. Think about all the fuel used to ship all the stuff across the world and the toxins created in producing all the stuff…and I could go on and on. My increasing awareness of how big the problem is was actually part of the problem; I was giving much more attention to what was going wrong than I was to what I was doing to help things go right.

Now, let’s bring Starr Kolb into the picture. Starr is a volunteer for the Cochrane Sustainability Plan. She called me and explained a little bit about the project and asked if we could get together. This is what I thought: such a nice lady — I wonder how she’ll feel about the reality of this business…will she back away slowly or openly show her disgust? I wondered if she had seen The Story of Stuff on YouTube. I wondered if perhaps she would have some brilliant solutions that didn’t involve boarding up the windows and moving off the grid to live on dandelion salad…so I agreed to meet her.

To my great surprise and even greater delight, Starr, through her gentle guiding questions, showed me that I (yes I!) was in fact figuring out some solutions by myself. Significantly, she also helped me realize that my biggest problem was that I wanted to change everything all at once — a completely unsustainable approach to sustainability!

Here is a brief list Starr made that day of the best initiatives we have taken to shift towards sustainability:

  • We seek out excellent and locally produced lines — two for example: Rocky Mountain Soap Co. and Admirable Designs. We are so proud to tell customers about these lines.
  • Whenever possible we use local businesses to meet our needs.
  • We have taken the risk to introduce some lines that are higher end (for example Bella Notte) because they are produced through remarkably low-impact processes.
  • Sales staff are trained and encouraged to actively build consumer awareness of the choices available.
  • We offer products that were previously available only by going into the city.
  • We have made suggestions to several companies regarding the reduction of packing materials. Here’s the best part — one of them (Natural Life) took our advice!
  • We practice generosity of spirit: when someone is looking for a product we don’t offer, we make every effort to send them to a local business. We are very supportive of local business owners and truly believe that when one of us is successful, we all are.

Starr also pointed out that we provide jobs for members of the local community and support (through donation) some excellent local non-profit organizations. Rather than focusing on what was NOT working, Starr was helping me focus on what WAS working — right then and there my heart was flooded with all the possibility I saw when I began my adventure with The Heavenly Outhouse.

I had somehow forgotten how much power I had when I entered the huge, global system of retail at a different level than when I was simply a consumer. As I looked through the information that Starr had left, I realized that she did not fall out of the sky — she is part of a group of people who approach sustainability through the process of appreciative inquiry (whether or not the folks of CSP are intentionally using this approach to organizational change I’m not sure) and community building rather than the stereotypical image of protest and condemnation so many have come to expect from the people who do this work (too much TV I think).

Much time has passed since my initial interview with Starr. I am so thankful for her visit that day and I am so thankful that the Cochrane Sustainability Plan is building its presence in our town. Every person, every organization they reach stands to gain so much. The best of our solutions arise out of the worst of our problems, and I believe an individual with a sense of empowerment and a feeling of belonging to a larger community is going to contribute to solutions much more significantly than an individual isolated and overwhelmed by a deepening awareness of problems. CSP breaks down the isolation and focuses on growing the solutions that have already budded into existence.

I for one offer my fullest gratitude and support. Bravo!