Featured Chinaberry Employee - Mary Arter

December 1st, 2008 by Janet

Janet: Tell me the story of when, where, and why you found yourself at Chinaberry!

Mary: I started working at Chinaberry in 1987, when my children were 8 and 11. The story of how I came here is one of those serendipitous experiences that sometimes occur (some people say they are always occurring) in life. I had been at home with my children since my oldest was born and was ready for something new. One Sunday evening I was bemoaning my need to get out of the house to my sister-in-law. She tried to reassure me, saying, “Something will show up; it always does.” I was skeptical. The very next morning, she called, saying “Here’s your job” and put Ann, Chinaberry’s founder, on the phone with me. My sister-in-law owned a shop selling used children’s clothes and that morning Ann and her daughter, Elizabeth, had come in looking for clothes for Elizabeth’s doll. They made their purchase and left, then turned around, came back into the store, and said, “You might think this is crazy, but my husband and I sell children’s books. Do you know anyone who might want to work with us?”

My sister-in-law said she knew the perfect person and called me right there on the spot! We arranged for me to come for an interview the next day. Now, mind you, I had not worked outside the home for 11 years, had not touched a typewriter since college, and had never even looked at a computer. I am also a slow mover, taking time with whatever I’m doing. Ann and Ed were speedy types and wanted someone to take some of the burden off them. The business (which was located in the garage of their home) was growing and they had two young children; it was just getting to be more than they could handle. I am forever grateful that they were willing to take a chance on a completely inexperienced, computer-phobic, “process-oriented” person who loved children’s books. I was like a kid being let loose in a candy shop!

Janet: How would you describe what you do now?

Mary: Over the 20+ years I’ve been here, I’ve at least had a finger in just about every job, from packing orders in the warehouse and answering phones in Customer Service to entering and processing orders.I have a degree in Literature, so at some point early on I volunteered to start proofreading the catalog, and that’s where I’ve settled in. So part of my job now is editing and proofreading annotations for the catalog. I also have the extreme delight of going through all the children’s picture books that come in, choosing the ones that might make it into the catalog. It’s like Christmas every day! Additionally, I go through all the publisher catalogs and request books that sound appealing. I do a wide variety of other things, but these are the primary jobs I do.

Janet: What life lessons have you learned at CB? How has working here changed you?

The biggest lesson I’ve learned here is to have balance in my life. For a good number of years I became a workaholic. I just loved being here and loved pushing myself to do more and more. It got to the point where the only vacation time I took was around various holidays, when we’d have hordes of relatives coming in and all the work that entails, so it wasn’t really a vacation. Finally, one year my daughter, who was in high school at the time, “made” me go to Hawaii with her for two weeks. She made all the arrangements and secretly worked it out with everyone here for me to be gone. Being on a real vacation, in Hawaii no less, was an eye-opener. I hadn’t realized how out of balance I’d become. We both cried the day we left to come back. Ever since then, I’ve become a master at taking time off!

As to how working here has changed me, I’ve become a lot more confident and self-assured, willing to speak up about issues I care about. I’ve also become a lot faster at whatever I’m doing!

Janet: What are your top two all-time favorite CB books?

Mary: I have three top books: Miss Rumphius for its message about finding something you can do to make the world more beautiful; Jamberry, for its rhyming fun and silliness; and Goodnight Moon, which someone once said is one of the most spiritual children’s books ever written - I agree.

Janet: What are your top two all-time favorite CB products?

Mary: Hmmmmm…. Well, just about every one of my female relatives now has a Widu hairbrush. And if I can include an Isabella product, the Flu and Cold Remedy. I swear by it.

Janet: What is your fondest memory of working here at CB?

Mary: I have very fond memories of when CB was still a home business and 2-year-old Evan and 5-year-old Elizabeth would periodically wander in while I was packing orders. Evan would usually insist that I should have one of his favorite children’s music tapes on (”I Love Apples and Bananas” was a popular one!). Phreddy the dog was a frequent companion as well, usually curling up right on my feet.

Janet: What is your funniest memory?

Mary: Too many to recount. I think Chinaberry is one of the most unusual workplaces you’ll find, and one proof of that is the amount of laughter that goes on every day. I tend to be a very serious person, so being surrounded by such a lighthearted bunch is good medicine!

Janet: If you weren’t working for CB, what dream job would you like to have?

Mary: At this point in my life, with my first grandchild on the scene, my dream job would be retirement!

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