The B&N Podcast: Julie Gaines Mixes Business and Family

Every author has a story beyond the one that they put down on paper. The Barnes & Noble Podcast goes between the lines with today’s most interesting writers, exploring what inspires them, what confounds them, and what they were thinking when they wrote the books we’re talking about.

This episode of the B&N Podcast is about a place where business, family, and an iconic New York City institution meet. Our guest is Julie Gaines, the co-founder of the groundbreaking store Fishs Eddy — where vintage plates, bowls and cups salvaged from a vanishing America find a new life in the kitchens and dining rooms of New Yorkers . She joined us to talk about her new book Minding the Store: A Big Story about a Small Business. It’s a story about putting your dreams into action, about what happens when you take a completely original idea and make it a reality. It’s also about what happens when you can’t extricate your family life from your business, for better or for worse. True to her nature, Julie Gaines put a family member to work in creating this unique book, which takes the form of a graphic memoir charmingly illustrated by her son Ben Lenovitz. When she joined us in the studio, we started by talking about a subject that the author may know better than anybody: the surprising appeal of dishes.

In this charming graphic memoir, the founder of an iconic housewares shop recounts the ups and downs—and ups again—of starting a family business, starting a family, and staying true to one’s path while trying to make it in the Big City.

Whether it’s a set of vintage plates from a 1920s steamship, a mug with a New Yorker cartoon on it, a tin of sprinkles designed by Amy Sedaris, or a juice glass from a Jazz Age hotel, Fishs Eddy products are distinctly recognizable. A New York institution, Fishs Eddy also remains a family business whose owners endured the same challenges as many family businesses—and lived to write about it in this tale filled with humorous characterizations of opinionated relatives, nosy neighbors, quirky employees, and above all the eccentric foibles of the founders themselves. Readers come to know author Julie Gaines and her husband, with whom she founded the store, and because this is a family business, the illustrations are all in the family, too: their son Ben Lenovitz’s drawings bring Fishs Eddy to life with a witty style a la Roz Chast and Ben Katchor.

Over the years the store has collaborated with artists and celebrities such as Charley Harper and Todd Oldham, Alan Cumming, and many others to produce original designs that are now found in thousands of stores throughout the country, and Fishs Eddy has garnered a huge amount of media coverage. A great gift for anyone who has ever dreamed of opening a little business—or anyone with any kind of dream—Minding the Store offers wisdom, inspiration, and an exceedingly entertaining story.

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Author photo of Julie Gaines (c) Seth Brown.