The process for starting Plowsharing actually began in 1984, 33 years ago, when a dedicated group of people from the St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship began to gather together to talk about having a store in St. Louis. None of us had any experience in retail, or in running a business, or selling things. We were educators, medical professionals, accountants, editors, students, childcare workers, and professional volunteers. We were all Mennonites, people who traditionally are much better at giving than selling.
We were also united by the thought that this sounded like a pretty good idea, but decided to build in a “fail-safe” option should this turn out not so well. In order to raise funds we agreed upon the idea that we would raise enough operational money to last us 6 months. At the end of the six months, we could then decide whether we were doing well enough to continue on. If things seemed positive enough, we would go on. If the thing was a disaster, we would cut our minimal losses, close up shop, and look for something else to do.
So, we put together a proposed budget, with monthly expenses totaling around $1350. We multiplied that by 6 months, and came up with the imposing (at least for us) amount of $8000, which was the amount we agreed to raise before we opened our doors. And, away we went, trying to raise $8000.
We never did a lemonade stand, but some of our efforts seemed as low-key and simplistic as that (if that can be considered low-key and simplistic.) Pledges from our fellow Mennonites were key, and they ranged from $1/month to $50/month, pledges that were open-ended until we got the $8000. One-time gifts; a Roblee Foundation grant (if anyone from the Roblee Foundation reads this, thanks, 33 years later); and a number of small Fair Trade sales of some of the products that we incorporated into our first store. There are still a few folks who can recall buying things from us at a small office we had at the World Community Center, 438 N. Skinker, near the Loop.
And, finally, about 10 months after we agreed upon the amount, we had our $8000 in cash, ready to be used in running a store. Our search for a retail site took us several places, but we finally settled on a site on Manchester Road in Maplewood, one that was both affordable (the U. City Loop was a bit too much for us with the amount of money we had) and gave us some visibility from the street.
Needless to say, the rest is history, and 32 years later we are still going. Our Grand Opening Day, Saturday, June 15, 1985, was great! We were very excited by the response and the $900 in sales that we generated. (The real world hit us on Monday, June 17th, 1985, when sales were $40, $10 of which came from my wife.)
However, the true success of a Plowsharing is totally dependent on the number of artisans, craftspeople, and farmers, (and their families) that we have partnered with throughout those years. Their ability to make things and receive a fair wage for their handiwork, and our ability to market their creations and give customers a sense of how their purchase can positively affect the life of someone else is the true marker of success.