One Man’s Attempt to Keep a Small Business Alive in a Bad Economy

For my feature writing class, I wrote this piece on Matt Smith from Outdoor Adventures…

Outside on the sunny steps sits a man-28- who wears a plaid short-sleeved button-up shirt, khakis rolled up to just above his ankles, and Chaco’s threaded with colors of maroon, black, and white. 

 The man under all the camper-esque clothing is Matt Smith.  He is the man whom the success of a small, local outdoor store in Clemson, South Carolina can be attributed.  Outdoor Adventures has been around for 16 years and is located on a road that is frequently traveled in front of Fike Recreation Center.  The building resembles a small house and includes a front porch big enough to fit any visitors who wish to rest their feet.

 Since Smith arrived in August of 2009, the front porch has had more people walk on its steps because of what Smith describes as “great retail experience.”  Before Smith joined Outdoor Adventures, the store was missing organization and expert help.  Smith fixed both of those problems within the first two weeks of joining the team.  “I started straightening up shirts and talking to customers when they walked in,” he said. 

 Ten days after becoming an employee, Smith was promoted to manager and given responsibility.  “I started to kick ass and take names,” he said.  Outdoor Adventures can be described as a specialty retail store and visitors are often from all different walks of life.  

 In order to give customers the best retail experience possible, Smith believes it is important to have enough experience to give advice.  He also thinks that it is important to have a personality that engages others and makes them feel welcome and part of the community.

 Smith possesses all of those characteristics and it showed even as we sat on the front porch during our interview. 

 During our interview, two college age students walked up.  “Can I help you with anything today?” asked Smith. 

“We’re going camping this weekend,” said the man.

“Cool. Where are ya goin’?” asked Smith.

“Somewhere near the Chattooga River and I need boots,” said the woman.

“We’ve got what you need, don’t let me stop you at the door,” said Smith.

After about five minutes, Smith headed inside to give advice to the couple.  Fifteen minutes later, Smith came walking out of the store behind the man and woman- all with smiles on their faces.  The woman was carrying a box with her new boots in it.  

 A co-worker of Smith’s, Katie Bucherati, explained, “Matt will not let a customer come into the store without speaking and conversing with them.”  Smith explained, “I make a bold effort to inject myself into peoples’ conversations and lives.”

 Since Smith arrived, the feeling of the store seems to be positively different.  “Before, employees were taught to sit behind the counter and help people if they needed it,” explained Bucherati.  “Now customers and employees are working together and having fun while shopping.”

 Smith will leave Outdoor Adventures at the end of April to begin his journey along the Appalachian Trail.  He is leaving the store in Bucherati’s hands.  “I’ve helped build a strong sense of engagement between customers and employees here,” said Smith.  “I hope that the outdoor enthusiasts that we hired will continue to give customers the good retail experience that keeps them coming back.”

No Day Like Today…

I recently went to the play Rent because it was performed at the Brooks Center at Clemson University.  It. Was. Amazing.  My friend, Bradley Zellars, played Angel in the play.  I had to write a feature for my feature writing journalism class, and I chose to write it about Bradley.  Below is a picture of Bradley dressed as Angel, and the story that I wrote about him based on our interview and my viewing of the show…

Bradley Zellars as Angel in the play Rent

A Tree Turns to Angel

Last weekend at Clemson University, in Clemson, South Carolina, a tree turned into an Angel.

 Bradley Zellars, a senior performing arts major at Clemson University was shy when he started school as a young boy.  He didn’t like hanging out in big groups and he would have a panic attack if he was asked to read aloud.  Zellars had so much to say, but couldn’t get a word out.

 So he tried out for a play in the fourth grade as an outlet for his thoughts.  His first role as an actor? A tree.  “I had to stand there the whole time with my arms stretched completely out!” said Zellars.  “It was a small part, but it’s gotten to me where I am today.’”

As Zellars continued to grow into an actor, he realized the magic that actors were given the chance to experience.  “I thought it was magical how actors could become someone or anyone completely different from themselves.”

During his first trip to New York City in high school, he saw the play Rent on Broadway.  “As soon as the character Angel appeared on stage, I immediately said to myself, ‘I am going to play him one day.” 

And that’s exactly what he did.

The Clemson Players decided last semester to put on Rent during the first part of this Spring semester.  Zellars tried out for the part and was named Angel, one of the major leading roles.  Angel is a drag queen who wants everyone to live like “there is no day but today”.  He is homosexual, lives with AIDS, and dies during the last scene in the play.

The cast and band members were asked to learn their lines and music over Christmas break and started rehearsing right as the Spring semester started.

In addition to studying for difficult senior-level classes, Zellars also had to practice his lines hours after he finished classes.  Along with seven hours of school, Zellars would also practice at the Brooks Center for another five hours at night. “It was important to stay healthy during this time by getting enough rest, eating properly and dressing weather appropriate,” he said.  “By conserving my energy, staying healthy, and managing my time differently, I was able to keep up with my school work while rehearsing for Rent.”

To prepare for the role of Angel, Zellars had to work out and do breathing exercises to help increase his lung capacity.  Because he had to dance and sing simultaneously while wearing high heels, Zellars admitted he had to, “work on really being able to take control of his body.”

And what about those high heels that Angel wore in the play? “I don’t see how girls do it,” said Zellars.  “I had to submerge my feet in a bucket of ice after every show because my feet would be swollen and throbbing by the end of the performance.”

Zellars looks up to Angel because Zellars describes Angel as strong, courageous, and compassionate- characteristics that Zellars also strives to possess. “Angel ends up being a real testament to love and life,” he said.  “Angel breaks your heart. Angel inspires. And that’s why I loved playing him.”

Zellar’s favorite scene of Rent was the last scene when Angel walks into “the light”.  He emerges in a red kimono dress and high heels and lets “the light” take him with him arms stretched completely out.  Just like a tree.