The Shop's Business: Shop personnel come and go, 1969-1978

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Between 1969 and 1996 over fifty individuals worked at the leather shop. Thirty people worked in the shop between 1972 and 1978. During its first year the leather shop was an open studio and all were welcome. Only bitter experience taught the commune to more carefully select its members. The Ragnarokr leather shop always encouraged individuals to learn leather craft as a way to earn a living and encouraged the more adventurous craftsmen to go into business for themselves. Some individuals came and went many times. The shop was regarded as a community resource and there was no penalty or recrimination for those who left the shop. In fact none of the half-dozen or so craftsmen who founded the leather shop in 1969 worked continuously in the shop during the twenty-six years of its existence. They too came and went as they pleased.

Until 1972 turnover was quite rapid. Four of the original founders stayed on and became the de-facto management team. They instructed new craftspeople, made sure the bills were paid and ran the residential quarters behind the leather shop. Until the immigration requirements were tightened after 1972, the leather shop routinely wrote job offers for incoming exiles. Sometimes the men moved into the shop’s residential quarters immediately after immigrating. Some stayed for only a short time. Others stayed and became part of Ragnarokr’s extended family.

By February 1973 the shop's personnel consisted of Mary and Randy Rauton, Philip and George Mullins, Colleen Anderson, Chris Risk, Skip O’Dell, Madelyn Averitte and Steve Burdick. Steve Burdick worked a few hours each week to keep the three sets of books and pay the bills. As always the roster of the shop personnel ebbed and flowed but Mary, Philip, George, Colleen, Randy and Steve Spring kept the shop going in the early 1970s. In 1975 Bie Engelen joined them as a consistent and reliable partner. Although Bie had other interests and other jobs, she stayed with the shop until it closed in 1996.

Morley Yan, a neighborhood friend, worked occasionally in the shop between 1971 and July 1975. Pat Ruoff and Janice Spellerberg worked in the shop from August 1972 until May 1973 when they established their business on Yonge Street. Chris Risk and Madelyn Averitte both left to start businesses elsewhere although both later returned.

In January 1974 Ragnarokr consisted of Chris Risk and Caroline Spring, George Mullins and Colleen Anderson, Mary Rauton and Philip Mullins, Steve and Simone Spring, Frank Tettemer, Linda Sorensen, Tom Bonanno and Bie Engelen. Jeff and Debbie Mullins arrived from Florida in July. Chris Risk and Caroline lived and worked at the Frostpocket and rarely helped in the shop in Toronto.

In March 1974 Frank Tettemer developed a custom-molded sandal modeled after the famous Birkenstock cork sandal. To launch his business he agreed to watch the shop during the slow months of September and October in return for a consignment rate of 15% (compared to the usual rate of 25%). After October he commuted between his home in Renfrew County and Toronto to take orders and fit his unique (and expensive) sandals.

In December 1974 Philip, Mary, George and Colleen were at the leather shop in Toronto for the Christmas season. It was customary for all-hands to attend to the shop during the peak selling season that lasted from the middle of November until the end of December. The shop closed on Christmas Eve and, on Christmas day, the community usually ate Christmas dinner together. The annual planning meeting was held between Christmas and New Year's Day either in Toronto or at Frostpocket. During the mid-1970s, after the Christmas meeting, either George and Colleen or Philip and Mary left to either drive south on vacation or to go back to the Frostpocket. During the months of January through March the retail trade at the shop in Toronto barely paid the rent and the shop was kept open only to make custom-order items and do repair work. The months between the “Christmas season” and the “sandal season” became the preferred months for travel and vacation. This changed after 1975 when George began to make maple syrup for sale. He had to be at the Frostpocket at least by February to prepare for the sugar season. Between 1976 and 1978 George and Philip both worked the sugar bush and this left little time for travel.

In 1975 participants at the Christmas dinner in Toronto included Philip Mullins and Mary Rauton, Jeff and Debbie Mullins, George Mullins and Colleen Anderson and their two children Seth and Katie, Madelyn Averitte and Fletcher Starbuck, Brenda Matthias, Randy Rauton and Bie Englen. By January everyone except Randy Rauton, Debbie Mullins and Numa (Ruth Ruston) had left the city leaving those three to run the leather shop in Toronto. In March Randy and Bie departed for Mexico when Mary and Philip returned to Toronto after the maple sugar season.

During 1976 the rotation between the Frostpocket farm and Toronto continued as usual. Philip and Mary ran the leather shop in October, George and Colleen in November and everyone gathered in Toronto in December. January 1977 found George and Colleen at the Frostpocket where George was preparing the sugar bush for another season. Philip and Mary remained in Toronto until February when they too moved up to the Frostpocket to help with in the sugar bush. They left Randy and Jeff and Debbie Mullins to run the leather shop.

Beginning in 1976 the seasonal migration between Toronto and the Frostpocket was altered by the presence of school-age children. In 1976 George and Colleen had two children. The oldest, Seth Anderson, attended first grade in South River during the 1975-1976 school-year. His parents pulled him out of school when they left for Toronto for the Christmas selling season. The next year, Seth enrolled in a primary school in Toronto for the 1976-1977 school-year and stayed behind with his uncle Philip and aunt Mary when his parents returned to Frostpocket in January. Mary’s son, Bill Rauton, came to visit his mother in the summer of 1976 and in the fall he enrolled in the high school near South River. He went to Toronto for the Christmas holidays and returned with George and Colleen to the Frostpocket in January so he could continue attending high school.

George and Colleen and Philip and Mary switched places in March. Colleen was about to give birth to their youngest child, Andrew, during the height of the sugar season. George deftly split his time between the sugar bush and his wife in Toronto and managed to be at her side when Andrew was born on March 12. In late March everyone except Jeff and Debbie left for a short visit to their parents in Georgia and Texas. Jeff and Debbie were left to run the leather shop by themselves. On the trip back to Toronto the five adults and three children in the Dodge van encountered an ice storm near Chatham, Ontario just as night fell. They telephoned Tom Bonanno and he invited them to wait out the storm at his house near Sparta, a distance of 50 miles. The drive to Tom’s house over ice-covered roads took six hours. The storm continued all night and into the next day, taking down power lines and closing the roadways. The refugees from the storm arrived in Sparta at 5:30 am and were stranded at Tom’s house for two and a half days until the road to Toronto was reopened.

During the summer of 1977 Philip and Mary alternated working in Toronto with George and Colleen. Each family selected three and a half or four months of the year when they assumed responsibility for managing the Ragnarokr leather shop. Randy Rauton was usually in Toronto as well and Steven Burdick continued to do the books. As usual all hands, gathered in Toronto in November from the Christmas season. Billy Rauton again enrolled in high school in South River for the 1977-1978 school-year. When Mary and Philip moved to Toronto for the Christmas season he was boarded with the Seventh-Day Adventists at their farm at Woodland Park, about two miles from Frostpocket. However after Christmas he had a falling out with the elders at Woodland Park after they learned that he was skipping school. He dropped out of school and went to Toronto. He found a cold welcome at the leather shop. He returned to his father’s home in Atlanta, Georgia briefly but fared no better there. Billie returned to Toronto in May but did not return to school. Instead he worked in the leather shop and eventually found outside employment.

Seth enrolled in the third grade in the South River school. With a child in school, it became more and more difficult for George and Colleen to balance their time between Toronto and Frostpocket. Seth did well in school and did not seem to mind his status as seasonal migrant but his parents were concerned about the future. Colleen’s younger children, Katie and Andrew, were still too young for school but it was not too early to begin planning for the time when they too would be going to school. By the summer of 1978 George and Philip thought they finally had a plan that they hoped would end the seasonal migration between the Frostpocket and Toronto.

The narrative continues at The Shop's Business: Dealing with Government, 1974-1978

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