Minding the Store

A Big Story about a Small Business


By Julie Gaines

Illustrated by Ben Lenovitz

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“I really enjoyed this book. In fact, I could go for a second helping!”—Amy Sedaris

“Entrepreneurs will learn a thing or two about translating a dream into thoughtful business growth, and everyone will laugh, cry, and nod along with a woman who has chosen to live an extraordinary life amidst many piles of dishes.” —Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, founder of Shake Shack, author of the New York Times bestseller Setting the Table

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.


by Julie Gaines
Illustrated by Ben Lenovitz

Published by
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Post Office Box 2225
Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27515-2225
a division of
Workman Publishing
225 Varick Street
New York, New York 10014
2018 by Julie Gaines. Art
2018 by Ben Lenovitz.
All rights reserved.
Published simultaneously in Canada by Thomas Allen
Son Limited.
Design and color by Rose Wong
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Gaines, Julie, author.
Lenovitz, Ben, illustrator.
Title: Minding the store : a big story about a small business /
by Julie Gaines ; illustrated by Ben Lenovitz.
Description: First edition.
Chapel Hill, North Carolina :
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2018.
Identifiers: LCCN 2018011663
ISBN 9781616206628
hardcover : alk. paper
Subjects: LCSH: Fishs Eddy
New business
Stores, Retail
business enterprises
Classification: LCC HD9971.5.T324 .F574 2018
DDC 338.7/64270973
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2018011663
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
First Edition

To Vivian and Valerie, and mothers everywhere.

1. Road to Fishs Eddy
2. For Rent
3. Doing Dishes
4. Customer Service in the Early Years 41
5. Family Business
6. Road Scholars
7. In the Black
8. Half-Baked
9. Lost Leaders
10. Bully in a China Shop
11. Dishing It Out


A pivotal moment, fifth grade, Staten Island, 1976.
Overhearing my mother’s conversation with the saleslady
at the jean store while I’m in the changing room.
Mother: She’s just impossible to fit.
Saleslady with heavy Staten Island accent: Yuh know,
huh problem is she’s not petite, she’s just really shawt.

I was no particular standout.
Jealous of my two pretty sisters and stuck at 4’11”
when everyone else kept growing, mediocre could
have been my middle name. Instead it’s
. Beth.
But underneath the plaid shirts and clogs, behind the
pounds of makeup I wore on days I was trying to belong,
there inside me was a small spark of certainty that someday,
somehow, I would find a way to fit into this world.

Chapter 1
Road to Fishs Eddy

Soon after college I moved to West 15th Street.
There was a small glassware shop at the end of
the block, so I went in to buy some drinking glasses.
The boy at the register introduced himself as Dave
and said he ran the shop, which belonged to his
cousin. He said the job sort of got him out of trouble.
Whatever that meant. I introduced myself as Julie
and said I had an art degree. Whatever that meant.

I told Dave how I left Staten Island to study art and that
I made the biggest paintings in the class, which apparently
didn’t make them good paintings, just very big paintings.
Dave annoyed his mother so
much that she bought him a
one-way ticket to anywhere he
wanted. So at seventeen years
old Dave came to New York City.
Dave told me about his childhood
in Miami. He said when his mother
invited her friends over for poker
night he intruded on their game,
often with a dead snake he found
in his backyard.
Dave said he was effective at scaring most
of his mother’s friends, except for the friend
who was taking child psychology classes in
continuing education and asked if she could
do an independent study of Dave’s behavior.

That week Dave and I went
to see
The Gods Must Be
, and from then on we
were together all the time.
I told my father about Dave but then
regretted it, because, while my father didn’t
have great expectations for me career-wise,
he took a profound interest in who I dated.
“An odd man came into the store and
bought a useless glass hurricane shade,”
Dave said a few days later.
All I had to hear was
“odd” and “useless.”
I haven’t
sold one of these
the entire time I
worked here.
Oh no,
what did he
look like?

Even though my mother said Jewish
boys aren’t useful in the wilderness,
Dave and I decided to go on a
camping trip upstate. I told my mother
we would be OK because Dave
was only half Jewish.
On the way up to the Adirondacks,
we stopped at a Walmart so Dave
could buy a survival guide and a
hunting rifle. He said we were going to
live off the fat of the land. I could
see Dave was a real outdoorsman.
All Dave did was wound a quail,
and I was getting hungry again, so
we headed back to the city to eat.
Was he
bar mitzvahed?

On the way home we talked
about how much fun it would
be to open up our own shop,
and to not have bosses.
There wasn’t much to see in Fishs Eddy,
just a post office and a cemetery.
We stopped for lunch at a small town called
Fishs Eddy and thought that if we did have a
store, Fishs Eddy would be a good name even
though it was spelled funny.

I told my mother all about the camping
trip and the little town called Fishs Eddy
and being with Dave forever.
I knew
you’d be back
by dinner.
When we looked at the gravestones in the cemetery we realized that the
town must have been named after the Fish family, and someone must have
discovered an eddy in a stream somewhere in the town.

Chapter 2
For Rent

We found a tiny shop near Gramercy Park with a FOR RENT
sign in the window. The super of the building said he was sure the
landlord would give us a lease. And it would only cost us
$100 to talk to the landlord.



The following week we walked by a hardware
store that was going out of business.

A worker told us the counter
was garbage, but for $50
we could have it.

All the old nail kegs and wooden boxes from
Weinstock Brothers hardware store made Fishs
Eddy look like it had been in business forever.
After we paid the first month’s rent
we bought a used pickup, and a puppy.

We spent the rest of our savings on vintage paintings, old chairs,
and small cabinets to sell in our new shop. Flea markets in Pennsylvania
opened at four in the morning, so we could go on buying trips and be
back in time to open for business.
Sometimes we took our dog, Hodgie, but after a while
I insisted that we leave him at home
Hodgie loved Dave as much as I loved Dave, and
Hodgie would only sit in the passenger seat.
Dave was good at spotting vintage
glassware, and I liked to look for
oil paintings that were portraits
of random everyday people.


  • One of Nylon's Best Illustrated Books of 2018

    “Hilarious . . . Gaines’ writing is straightforward and witty, and it makes sense that the design-forward store would have a design-forward book (and even more sense that the family store would have a family book). Both the illustrations and the text deserve a good poring over; the more you look, the more there is to find. It’s a learn-by-example experience; while Gaines doesn’t have all the answers of how to run a small business, she does have the answers that worked for her.”
    Bedford + Bowery

    “I found Minding the Store to be a refreshing look into the life of a small business. Gaines tells her story honestly, not flinching away from the mistakes she and her husband Dave Lenovitz made along the way, but not losing her sense of humor either . . . [Ben] Lenovitz’s illustrations share that warmth and candor.”
    Women Write About Comics

    “The blend of Gaines’s candor and Lenovitz’s illustrations gives the book a distinctive personality, not unlike the aesthetic cultivated by Fishs Eddy’s frequent collaborations with designers.”
    Curbed New York

    “Illustrated in a charming style by her son, artist Ben Lenowitz, the book is as personality-filled, humorous, and distinctively New York as Fishs Eddy itself.”
    Architectural Digest

    “An engaging narrative on the ups and downs of following dreams.”
    Publishers Weekly

    “Lenovitz, an artist and Gaines' son, pairs perfectly naive illustrations with Gaines' adult storybook-style writing . . . Without pretense, mother and son chart the ups and downs of owning a small business, and it all adds up to a lot of love for family and ‘doing dishes.’”

    “Revealing . . . compelling in its very personal details.”
    Florence Fabricant for The New York Times

    “An anti-business business book: it is a radical endeavor. Yet Minding the Store: A Big Story about a Small Business is an antidote for anyone who wants insights from successful people but is bored by jargon and unable to face another turgid tome from a bleach-toothed billionaire. The result is a delightful book . . . moving, funny and interesting.”
    The Financial Times

    “It’s a tale that begins with two people falling in love and trying to figure out what they can do together to make their way in the world . . . The faithful will find this very illuminating.”
    Kirkus Reviews

    “A delightful, utterly hilarious (and also darn inspiring) treat to read that will appeal to anyone who’s wondering if they should take that first little step toward building something truly unique for themselves. You need to read this book; it will seriously make your day.”
    Ree Drummond, author of the New York Times bestseller The Pioneer Woman Cooks

    “This is not a book about dishes, though I like dishes very much. It is an astute, very funny, meaningful memoir about life. The mistakes, the luck, the love, the madness, the searching—and ultimately, amazingly, incredibly—the finding.”     
    —Maira Kalman

    “I really enjoyed this book. In fact, I could go for a second helping!”  
    —Amy Sedaris, actress and author of the New York Times bestseller I Like You
    “Anyone who has been to Fishs Eddy knows it’s a magical place and must have an incredible story. Here now is that story come to life. As you might expect the book is as eccentric, heartfelt, weird, and wonderful as a wander round the store—and as full of wondrous treasures.”     
    —Alan Cumming, actor and author of the New York Times bestseller Not My Father’s Son
    “Julie Gaines’s Minding the Store is just as charming as the lovably idiosyncratic store itself. Filled with humor, humility, poignancy, and love, it tells the story of how she and her husband took an early gamble on an unlikely retail neighborhood and willed their personal vision into existence with persistence and grit, becoming an indelible part of the fabric of New York City along the way. Entrepreneurs will learn a thing or two about translating a dream into thoughtful business growth, and everyone will laugh, cry, and nod along with a woman who has chosen to live an extraordinary life amidst many piles of dishes.”              
    —Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, founder of Shake Shack, author of the New York Times bestseller Setting the Table

    “I love this clever and touching story of how Fishs Eddy became a beloved New York institution! It’s made even more poignant by Ben Lenovitz's lovely illustrations. A must-read for anyone not interested in taking the normal path!”
    —Todd Oldham, designer and author of Charley Harper: An Illustrated Life

    “Never saccharine, often wry, always charming, this book seduces its readers and infects them with the desire for whimsical dishes and intimate connection.”
    NY Journal of Books                                                                                                                                                                           

On Sale
Oct 30, 2018
Page Count
176 pages
Algonquin Books

Julie Gaines

Julie Gaines

About the Author

Julie Gaines grew up in Staten Island and studied painting at Syracuse University. After college she moved to Manhattan, where she met Dave Lenovitz and together they opened Fishs Eddy. Thirty years later Julie’s favorite pastimes are still designing and selling dishes.

Ben Lenovitz was born and raised in New York City. He studied painting at SUNY New Paltz and now lives in New York, where he has built his business called Art on Block. He is the son of Fishs Eddy founders Julie Gaines and Dave Lenovitz.

Learn more about this author