I miss owning a business. Not a dance school. I cannot describe how much I DON’T miss that during this particular season. For the last eighteen years, spring has been a time of stress and overwork as we hustled to prepare a recital for 1000 performers. Moreover, our efforts went far beyond choreography and cleaning up dances (which – because we were the primary artistic contributors in the school meant a great sacrifice of time – total focus) but we also wrote the programs, sold ads, designed the light plan for the stage lighting, did picture displays, and did hundreds of hours of backstage preparation and organization. It took years to put our systems into effect. And no matter how good it got, we always believed we could do better, so it was always a matter of brainstorming – working out the glitches from year to year – adding a new element – which amounted to more effort. The last year, I actually wrote a recital-planning book, but it will never be used now. Ah well –I was committed to never ending constant improvement. No effort is ever wasted, so I am glad I put to words all I learned. I might use it someday.
This was also the time of year that all the planning for the next season had to be completed – class schedules, school season planners, defining our yearly goals. And we were hustling to plan our summer program. And I was always preparing my notes for master classes or seminars I was commissioned to teach out of state (Well, I still have that – and they are currently due – sigh). In other words, there was never time to smell the roses as they began blooming in spring.
Now, without all this recital stuff demanding our attention, I am enjoying spring the way I haven’t for years – not since I was free and unencumbered by the dance school season’s schedule – not since New York, where spring made studying dance feel like a creative party.
Now, I’m noticing flowers, trees in bloom, and feel the sultry wind blowing in across the pasture. I marvel at how fresh and new life feels. We have butterflies – hundreds. I watch my daughter running across the pasture, chasing the llama, giggling, while dozens of butterflies swirl about her head, thinking it is like watching an animated movie. Too perfect. (Like in the last Harry Potter Movie when participants from the girl’s school enter Hogwarts, butterflies are set free by their sighs.) My blueberry bush is 9 feet tall and 12 feet wide. You can actually walk through it to gather the berries from the interior (now that my husband carved a walkway through the monster). It is so covered with butterflies and bees pollinating the new blooms, that it looks alive, constantly in motion. Fascinating. This month, we are taking hikes, having long, lovely talks, and enjoying the changing season with such a deep appreciation for the leisure it is beyond inspiration. It is like personal nirvana.
No, I don’t miss owning a dance school this time of year.
But I do miss having a business. I loved the challenges involved – the way it taxes so many skills. You must be good at accounting, finance, planning, design, marketing, and of course, endless creative thinking. That is the best part – tapping into your creativity to make your business different. I loved the resource a business provides too – I could contribute to the community through the vehicle, donate services, projects, space, whatever was needed to help others. This satisfied something within me too.
So, while I don’t need to start another business, and don’t need the income, I can’t help but think about businesses I would enjoy starting. (I am definitely an entrepreneurial sort – I would NEVER buy a business. I am all about laying a foundation and designing a new enterprise from scratch.)
There is so much opportunity here, endless enterprises so bound for success, it drives me crazy. I am committed to slowing down my life, not taking on another huge project, yet I find the idea of starting something fresh and building a new empire hard to resist. (And frankly, I like hard work.) This area is growing so fast (happens to be the seventh fastest growing area in the country, and oddly enough Sarasota was the seventh fastest growing area when I began a business there – interesting) that it is no surprise they are starved for commerce. And I keep thinking that this time around, we don’t need to make so much money – it isn’t vital that our business make enough to support a family of five and their future. It would be nice if it supplemented our income, gave us cash for indulgences like a trip to Africa or acquiring a racehorse – ha) but we don’t have to make so many sacrifices or compromises to secure our future (because it is already secure –thanks to some savvy real-estate investments we have made over the years. We are lucky in that way – made some great choices this year too, that made us as much as we would have made working the entire year. Apparently, we have good instincts. Who knew?)
Mark has always said that if we put the same amount of energy, creative thinking and sheer labor into any other industry (besides dance) we would be shockingly successful. Dance is not a business that traditionally makes money. The arts isn’t prosperous that way – but we managed to commercialize dance education without losing artistic integrity in a way that is unlike any other studio I’ve ever known That is something we will always be proud of. But, just imagine if we applied that kind of energy and innovation to a business with more earning potential – one that doesn’t demand so much actual hand-on creative effort that ravages your emotional stores. Wow.
I keep circling an idea. I bounced it off my husband and he doesn’t seem turned off at all. Funny, because for years, whenever I had an idea, he would sigh and be so aggravated that I was forever feeling guilty and miserable, as if I was the cause of our never-ending stress. My idea’s symbolized work – but I’ve come to learn it was not innovation and work he despised – it was more about the atmosphere of the dance school world and how it stripped us of the time and privacy he wanted for other things in life. I kept pushing the envelope. He just wanted to mail the damn letter to someone else and find a new P.O. Box.
But I wouldn’t start a business without him on board. It would have to be something we did together. I don’t want to take on a journey alone, and he is, after all, my partner in life travels.
A dance school here would be so successful – people ask us to open one every other day. And with our experience, our connections, our resources, etc… we could be back where we were before within three years. Tempting. It would be like pulling up the roots of our business and relocating it to the area we have always wanted to live. And there are other great elements of the idea – such as the fact that kids here have discipline and a different mentality – and nothing to do. We both recognize that we could make amazing dancers here. But what then? Would we just want to sell and move again? No thanks. I love it here.
So, what is it I want to do? Well, there are many things, from opening a canoe rental company, open just six months a year, or running a summer dance camp for serious dancers (which includes whitewater rafting and other fun between serious study) – two ideas that only require half a year of work. We could remain semi-retired that way. Or cabin rentals on our own land and creating vacation avenues for our customers. (Horseback riding, pontoon boat – we could provide it all…)
But what I am really stuck on right now is the idea of opening an Appalachian Arts Café.
The town of McCaysville, right by our new homestead, is growing rapidly. The stores there are changing before our eyes, from dismal antique shops and rundown country stores to upscale shops featuring fare that is more specialized. The Blue Ridge Scenic railroad leaves Blue Ridge (where the shops are very upscale now) and goes to McCaysville everyday. Six years ago, when it opened, they had 6 thousand passengers. This year they had 60 thousand! They expect it to continue growing. Ummm. That’s a lot of customers looking for someplace to shop and view regional mountain fare in our little town. And there is no coffee shop. Drives us crazy – coffee drinkers that we are. (The nearest Starbucks is a 60-minute drive from us – no kidding. Our powerful community leaders keep franchises out.) You can’t buy a bagel or a donut anywhere within miles of our town.
So, I am thinking we should open a coffee shop – the kind with a big roaring fireplace and leather chairs, specialty drinks and fantastic treats. (My mother says my muffins will put it on the map. Ha. I would love to make gourmet cakes each week and sell them by the slice – an excuse to cook without being accused of keeping my husband heavier than he should be). And I want it to be an art gallery too, featuring local Appalachian artists and their handcrafts. I did some research, and the galleries here take artists for a 60-40 cut, so the store doesn’t even have to purchase this art in advance – just provide great displays and move the merchandise. You can return what you don’t sell and if you have an eye for art (which we do) and travel in the artistic circles to meet the right people (which we do) a good store would have a wealth of artists to chose from. That means low investment for gallery merchandise. Not to mention that my husband’s wood art would have a home and we could move that too. And perhaps some of my jewelry…. And our other new interests in folk art (My husband has made over 10 Antler baskets and is preparing to do festivals next fall – they sell for 125-200 up here and his are better than most.)
If we had a coffee shop/art gallery, I would want to schedule folk musicians and storytellers to entertain on the weekends. I would have an open mic poetry night and get the local writers to gather there (I travel in those circles too). Might have a spare room designed for community meetings – writing groups or book clubs – a way of providing someplace special for the community to gather. I’d carry books too – only local writers and regional books to enhance our focus on regional art. Might include my own.
Of course, we also have another option. When the train pulls out at 3:00 each day – WE CAN CLOSE – because we feel like it. We don’t have to be a slave to a business anymore, and a coffee shop is something you can hire someone to work for you. In fact, the coffee shop in Blue Ridge that we regularly visit is owned by a woman who lives in Florida. She only spends the summer’s here. So we could have leisurely hours to work the train crowd alone, on extended hours for community customers. But we would not be the one making the coffee drinks and running it on a daily basis, unless we wanted to.
Rents are low in our area, so the startup would be easily manageable for us with our current resources. But that is the problem – I don’t want to rent space. I will never rent for a business again. When you are a renter, you really are only setting up a glorified self-employed job for yourself. A business is never really yours till you own your building. We learned that the hard way. When you rent, you are limited by a landlord’s permission regarding what you can do in and to your business, or if/when you can expand. Rents add up to a lot more than mortgages. So you are working to build someone else’s capitol – in short, half of your work is spinning wheels to support their business gains. This is a financial drain on a new business too. But when you own your space, the business really feels like yours. You can change it, expand it, sell it, or close it, and the choices are all yours. No long-term responsibility with contracts or leases. Just your freedom to make choices and create a business as large or as unique as your imagination sails. Our entire fortunes changed – and our potential – the day we bought our first building.
So, I’ve begun looking at buildings. There is a fantastic Japanese restaurant that is never open, resting in the perfect location. You could put bistro tables outside – it is quaint. Adorable. We’d buy that building, but it’s not for sale. But then, the operation there is not doing much business either, so who knows what is going on. We are looking into it. And there is a small house for sale in the town too. I am going to go see it and find out if it is commercially zoned. We could do wonders with that. Of course, we could buy a big ole building and rent the other storefronts out to others too. We could manage that. I just know I won’t open a business ever if I have to be a renter myself.
So, my mind is spinning.
I keep reminding myself that there is more to life than work, and I must take the time to slow down, watch the butterflies, pick blueberries and take long walks. Write. But then, I also think life should be an adventure and we should continue to grow and learn from it. I imagine there is much to learn and accomplish in a new endeavor like an art/gallery coffee shop for us. It’s a business that circles art (which we love) and appeals to the gentle nature of people (which we also love). When people stop to have a cup of coffee in a beautiful atmosphere, having just stepped off a scenic train because they are enjoying vacation, they are usually feeling fine. I would like to surround myself with people like that – make conversation with people who approach you with a joyful smile, then share what I know about the area so they will enjoy it as I do. We could make the interior of this place all logs and rustic furniture, have amazing displays of folk crafts, a big showcase with desserts and every kind of coffee (served in hand made pottery mugs). Maybe smoothies in the summer (we don’t have those in this area either). A total indulgence in artistic mountain atmosphere.
And now is the time. Opportunity is ripe. I feel it.
I can’t stop thinking about it.
I should, but I can’t.
And if my husband continues to listen, holding back that exasperated sigh that I came to dread so much, I’m afraid my idea might become more than a passing thought.
Hey – I just got a call from Mark. My llama is out. Gotta go chase him.
Ha. Do I have time to run an art gallery and chase a llama too when the need arises? I better be sure to put that into the equation when developing a business plan.