Neighborhood: North Park
Starting your own business is hard work. There’s the mission statement, the business plan, tax and insurance issues… You need to consider whether you want to be a sole proprietor or in a partnership, possibly even a corporation. What about employees? Is one too few but two too many? How should you attempt to finance it? Are you able to bootstrap it, or will your family be able to pitch in?
How do I know how hard it is? Am I a business owner? No. But I’m currently on book number five regarding the topic. Perhaps Birthing the Elephant: The Woman’s Go-For-It Guide to Overcoming the Big Challenges of Launching a Business will whisper the secret words to me that will help me get over my paralyzing fear, and I’ll finally be able to go for it.
Since we got married in September, my husband Sean and I have been vacillating over what to call our burgeoning, new joint-savings account. Do we name it our “dream-house fund” and hire a realtor or call it a “start our own business fund” and get busy being our own boss? When we moved into our rental home on Madison Avenue last year, we fell in love with the area immediately. We would be ecstatic to own a home anywhere in the vicinity, and we see how much potential our little neighborhood has to start a business.
Sure, El Cajon Boulevard still has some unsavory types trolling around. Derelicts, druggies, and prostitutes still dot the street here and there, but so do shiny new businesses. When we head down the crest of the hill coming from Washington Avenue and pass under “The Boulevard” sign on our way home, we are greeted by Luigi’s Pizza and Eclipse Chocolate. Apertivo has moved into Dao San’s old space, and they’ve added an adorable little patio where you can sip wine in the sunshine. There are enormous properties with “Your Name Here” signs flapping in the breeze, and there are little slivers of spaces up for rent, some tiny enough to easily be a one- or two-man operation. And so we dream.
On Sunday, the sun was back after a spattering of rain, so I suggested we head into Hillcrest to go to the farmers’ market. Sean pleaded with me to try Pancho Villa Farmer’s Market instead. He’s been trying to get me to go for months, but I’ve been resistant. I can’t forget the last time I tried a new market at someone’s urging. I had gone to Vien Dong in Linda Vista, and the smell of fish guts smacked me in the face.
“Pancho Villa’s doesn’t stink” he assured me. “Besides, if I recall, the smell at Vien Dong didn’t stop you from getting ass-end up in a tank chasing a Dungeness crab around to bring home to slaughter.” True. I didn’t really care, anyway. This morning I was jumping at the chance for one of our neighborhood walks, where every business on our route will be given the once-over, and we could assess the viability of our own little shop being nestled in with the group.
As we head toward Señor Mango’s on 30th to get our favorite Vampiro juice, we take a moment to peer in the window of the dry-cleaner on the corner. “How does she even function in that mess”? The place looks like it hasn’t been cleaned or organized since the ’70s. Clutter and disarray line the windowpane and counter. She must be a dry-cleaning savant.
We get in line at Señor Mango’s and gladly wait our turn in the bustling little shop. We spend the time marveling at the simplicity of their business and how little space is actually needed to run it. Sean suggests that we look for a house that could be converted into a shop in front, and we could live in the back. “Yuck!” I didn’t like the sound of that any more than I liked the idea of a bed-and-breakfast. I guess it comes down to the fact that I like people just fine, but I wouldn’t want them loitering around my house all day.
I explained to him that in my hometown of Binghamton, New York, every other block had a converted house/market or house/bar. The house/market in our neighborhood was the Blue Grotto, run by an old Italian couple. I advised Sean that if my home were my business, I would run the risk of becoming just like them. They had handwritten signs on the magazine racks that warned, “Two-minute lookee-loo time…only.” If they decided that you had hung around too long without making a purchase, the corpulent, mustachioed mother would lumber out from behind the counter and yell, “You no buy, you go bye-bye!”
Heading up 30th into the warm sunshine, we pass Hortus and stop for a look in the window. I admire their sign over the door. “Hortus: Cacti, Succulents, Art, Eclectics.” We had been in a few weeks earlier to say “Hi” and welcome them to the neighborhood. We discovered that there are three owners: an artist, a horticulturist, and a collectibles junkie. “That’s the way to do it. All the risk isn’t on one set of shoulders — three people to share the expenses and the workload.”
A few doors down, in a little space that I had long admired but had no viable business plan for, we saw a handwritten sign that read, “Mucho Mountain Bikes, Coming Soon!” How will they have a bike shop in so small a space? I try squinting to see past the sign, but I can’t make out what the storefront will look like. I’m so excited to see what they’ll do.
As we continue on our way, I spot the Homeez Haul It van that has recently been parked in random spots along the block. Aha! That’s what we need to do. Not a brick-and-mortar store, but a service. All we need is a truck and — voilà! — my husband stood back and inspected my diminutive frame. He picked up my arm, assessed my bicep, and declared, “Not with that little chicken wing.”