Robert Bush 11:18 p.m., May 25
Starting your own business is hard work. Really 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. And 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 it? Just thinking about it can give you a migraine. 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 finally whisper the secret words to me that will help me get over my paralyzing fear and I’ll finally be able to, as they say, just “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, “start our own business fund” and get busy being our own bosses? When we moved into our current 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, but we also 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 Ave and pass under “The Boulevard” sign on our way home, we are cheerfully 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 but there are also 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 finally back after a spattering of rain, so I suggested we head into Hillcrest to go to the farmer’s market. Sean once again 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 went to Vien Dong in Linda Vista and the smell of fish guts literally smacked me in the face. It was completely gross I reminded him. “I told you, 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 Senor Mango’s on 30th to get our favorite Vampiro juice for the walk, we take a moment to peer in the window of the dry cleaners on the corner. “How does she even function in that mess”? The place looks like it hasn’t been cleaned or organized since the 70’s. Clutter and disarray line the window pane and counter. She must be a dry cleaning savant. Every time I have been in, she barely looks up from her task at hand and she’s always on the phone. Always. Yet every time I’ve brought something in to be cleaned or hemmed it comes back on time and finished perfectly. I secretly feel like shit that I still don’t trust her enough to drop off anything I wouldn’t be heart broken to lose.
We get in line at Senor 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 anymore than I liked the idea of a Bed and Breakfast. I guess it just 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 N.Y., every other block had a converted house/market or house/bar. The house/market in our neighborhood was the Blue Grotto run by an an old italian couple. I cautioned Sean that if my home were my business I ran the risk of becoming just like them. They had handwritten signs on the magazine racks that warned: “TWO MINUTE LOOKEE-LOO TIME...ONLY.” Plus 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. I know it’s not the best Mission Statement in the world, but I’m really taken with it!
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 work load.” I asked my husband if he thought I could find two other people who would find my eclectic junk charming enough to share a business with me? He gave me a “ Good luck...I can hardly stand your swap meet crap and I love you dearly,” kind of look. But he simply shrugged and said “Sure.”
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 can’t make out what the store front will look like. I’m so excited to see what they’ll do. Even though we love Cal Coast bikes we vow to go back to Mucho’s when they open and at least buy a water bottle. We wish them luck in their new home.
As we continue on our way I spot the Homeez Haul it van that has recently been parked in random spots along the block. AH-HA! That’s what we need to do. Not a brick and mortar store, but a service. All we need is a truck and VIOLA! My husband stood back and inspected my diminutive frame. Then he picked up my arm and assessed my bicep declaring, “not with that little chicken wing.” “Try again.”
“Oh shit...look! Pretty Lady Hair Salon is gone.” I could have sworn that they were still there just a week ago. It’s not as if I ever considered having my hair done there, but It’s always disconcerting to see a business just vanish. No “Going Out of Business” sign, no warning, no fanfare. Just gone. We speculate about what could have happened. Was it the economy, bankruptcy, ineptitude, retirement, relocation? Could it be death? I wish I knew what could have caused Pretty Lady to leave the neighborhood.
As we pass Nami, I have to laugh. I remember when I drove by it for the first time in my car and I was so thrilled to know that we lived so close to a sushi bar! Then I took a closer look while I was on foot and under the name was a breakdown of their acronym. National Alliance on Mental Illness. I was so glad I had double checked. I would have been mortified if I walked in and requested a warm saki. It reminded me of the time my college roommate bundled up her cat in a laundry basket and marched it down to the Vet Center to find out why she had diarrhea. It turns out that the folks at theVeterans Center had no idea why her cat was sick. Utter Humiliation.
As we approach El Cajon Boulevard, we stop and stare at the amateurishly painted, lopsided Indian face that vacuously gazes into oblivion. It’s supposed to commemorate the Turquoise Room at the Aztec Bowl that used to grace this spot. Now it just denotes the entrance to a cookie cutter condo complex. All my fears about starting a business lie behind the vacant eyes of the Indian. What if we start a business and put all our time and money into it and it fails miserably taking our savings with it? What if it’s a huge success for a minute and then becomes passe and we watch it die slowly. What if I “what if” myself to death and never start anything at all. The Indian’s grim face remains unchanged and reveals no insight as we move on.
We reach the sidewalk safely after darting across the street, doing what must appear to motorists, as our best frogger impersonation. We stop dead in our tracks. “What happened to Birdland”? I cried. We pass Birdland everyday on our way to work. Not to be cruel, but it’s one of the places we use as a benchmark to say, “see...if they can survive so could we.” I look up to where the lettering used to be, then slowly down to the padlock on the door and finally, to the eviction notice taped to the window. We wonder what happened. Were there not enough bird owners in San Diego to keep it afloat? Were they as bad at book keeping as they were at cleaning? We couldn’t help but notice how filthy it was, punctuated by two gigantic cockroaches belly up in the window. “Gross, would you look at the size of those things!” “At least they’re dead.” My husband tried to reassure me. It didn’t help though. I know for every ONE you see, there are a hundred more. I shiver as we walk up the street, keeping my eyes peeled for enormous cockroaches that I imagine will come pouring out of every crevice in the building with the sole intention of devouring me.
“WOW, check that out.” I say as we reach the Children’s Creative & Performing Arts Academy, which, according to their banner, accepts students from Pre-School to High-School age. “Here’s what I don’t understand, how can they have a school of any sort right across the street from a strip joint”? “Can an establishment like Ten’s Strip Club advertise their Totally Nude Dancers on every side of the building”? “How is that even legal...aren’t there zoning laws against that"? We imagine that the school is kind of like the 80‘s TV show, Fame, and all the kids are training arduously for their big break. If the kids aren’t performing up to snuff, do the teachers corral them outside and say, “you’ll never make it to Broadway with that attitude, you may as well march right across the street and audition cause that’s where you’re heading missy”?
Botanico Chango is closed on Sunday so their sandwich board sign is not on the sidewalk advertising Despojos, Limpiezas, Espirituales. The window, however, still announce all the fun stuff awaiting your arrival. Religious Articles, Santeria, Amulets, Oils and Spiritual Advice. The first time I went in to check it out with my husband, it seemed like a pretty busy day for them. We entered through a thick haze of incense and were greeting by the sound of steady chanting coming from the back room. Four people were lined up in chairs patiently waiting their turn in the mysterious unseen room. We considered the various reasons they’d have for visiting. Was if merely for spiritual advice or something much more sinister like hexing their horrible neighbors or annoying co-workers? The wall of candles grabbed my attention right away. Any of them would make a great gag gift for my sister. I started laughing at some of the choices. 7 Day Fast Luck, Jinx Removing, Shut Your Mouth, Law Stay Away, Do As I Say. Yo Puedo y Tu No. (I Can You Can’t). I especially liked the 7 Day Backlist that claims to help you “even the score between those who want to harm you.” I turn to show it to my husband and discover he is no where to be found. The people in the chairs are staring blankly at me. I wonder how long I’d been standing there talking to myself. I quickly pick up the pace and choose Corre Diablo Corre. (Run Devil Run) It claims that “The bonds of the Devil will not enslave me for I know that God will guide me as I go about my day’s work.” That’s right, F-YOU Satan! As I meet my husband outside I asked him why he left me in there jabbering to myself like an idiot. “Are you kidding me. They are in there performing some kind of ceremony and you were making fun of it.” “Who knows what they are planning for you.” “Give me a break...as long as I spent money I’m fine.” I started looking over my candle in the daylight. Crap! The candle instructions tell me to anoint the candle with protection from harm oil AND burn protection from harm incense. “This thing is only going to function at a third of it’s potency!” I blame my husband for rushing me, otherwise I would have known that I’d needed the extra accoutrements to keep me safe. “Great, if Satan gets me it’s all your fault,” I mutter.
We make our way into Pancho Villa’s Market just as two cop cars veer in and three police officers hop out and start swarming the car they’d just pulled over. I’d like to see what’s up but since my husband reminds me that I’m probably hexed so I’d better not tempt fate by exposing myself to the possibility of being shot. Good point. I hustle inside.The first thing I said upon entering was, “I thought you said it didn’t smell”? He responded, “I said it doesn’t stink, big difference!” Oh, it smelled, but it smelled wonderful! The scent of freshly baked tortillas filled the entire store. We made our way through rows of fresh produce so cheaply priced I thought it must be a typo. There were at least a dozen varieties of peppers and the bakery in the center boasted tortes and tarts that were a fraction of what you’d pay at Whole Foods. The Meat counter stretched almost the entire length of the store and you had to appreciate the fact that no parts of any animal would be going to waste. We stocked up on produce, salsa and took home a warm stack of corn tortillas that should last us a month, all for around 13 dollars. I left ashamed of myself that I had waited so long to support one of my local businesses. Lesson learned!
We head home down El Cajon Boulevard and stopped to linger at the window of ABC Piano whose building has recently been put up for sale. We don’t have the heart to go in. Last time we stopped by, before it was for sale, we met the old man who owned it. He must have been ninety but was still so energetic, helpful and charming. You could tell how much he loved his store and was so passionate about music. My husband grew up playing the piano but we don’t have our own. We hope to buy a house before we make that kind of investment. Plus we’d have no friends left if we tried to recruit people to move a piano every two years when we would inevitably switch rentals! The old man reproached him anyway for not owning one. “You have to play everyday! Always be practicing! Never stop trying to improve!” It was wonderful advice that we took to heart immediately. As we gaze in the store, we just assumed that if it’s for sale, it’s because he wasn’t there anymore. We didn’t go in to check. I guess we just didn’t want to know.
As we were waiting for the light to turn so that we could cross and head up Utah Street towards home, I noticed a Grand Opening Sign on the newest “Spa,” or as we like to refer to them, “Rub and Tugs." Glowing red lights announce these “Spas” at all hours of the night. Mimi, Ana and Sumiko were just a few blocks away but I guess there was a need for one more because the blaring red sign on the dark storefront with shaded windows announces that Kimmy Spa was now open for business. I also noticed that she had added her business name to the community billboard in the parking lot. Nestled in between Dr. George K. Reese, Chiropractor and Accidentes De Trabajo was Kimmy’s sign. MASSAGE THERAPHIST [sic]. “Holy Crap! ‘Will you look at that!” “Can you believe that glaring error”? It’s silly that I’ve been so terrified about not being good enough to start my own business, when it turns out, perfection is not such a big deal. “Why am I so scared”? “Kimmy isn’t perfect and she’s still in business.” I feel bad for her though. Why didn’t Dr. George stop by and advise her about the proper spelling. I’m pretty sure English isn’t her first language. My resolve is renewed! “Man, If she can get a business started so can we!” Sean put his arm around my shoulder and said, “hold on, maybe Theraphist isn’t a typo at all,” Maybe that’s just her specialty. ‘It is still El Cajon Boulevard after all.” “SHUT UP!” I laughed but he still got a punch to the ribs. “Let’s just go home and work on our business plan.”