Yesterday, we broke ground to finally start building our new business. It has taken a great deal of time to get things in order, permits and finances etc…
This is not the first time we’ve broken ground to begin a new enterprise. Last time, we were building the grand Lakewood Ranch dance studio. We posed for the local news with our employees and the area business association was so delighted they hosted a fancy buffet in our honor. Pictures were in the paper. It was big news.
This time, we didn’t even plan to attend the ground breaking on the morning our builder started the preliminary work to lay the foundation for the future Bean Tree. My parents had had just left town after a short visit and last week was our school’s spring break and we’d gone to Nashville for a few days with the kids, thus setting us back on work related chores. We had a day chalk full of errands to run. But ten minutes after work was supposed to have begun, we got a call from our builder that “The neighbors are caterwauling’. Better get down here.”
Mark sighed and said, “And so it begins.”
We drive down. The bull dozer is parked center stage. In front of our little lot was the mayor, the police chief, a representative from the business association, and a few interested spectators (because an argument between neighbors is about as interesting as a fire in these here parts.)
Apparently, the fellow who rents the little building next door for a barbeque joint had taken exception to our moving the bushes and two trees that separated our neighboring lots. He claimed he was renting the bushes (which lie on the property line) as well as the building, so we better not dare touch them. The trees and bushes are mostly on our property (as well as a corner of his building, but we let that go) and we had secured permission to remove them months ago, so we were taken off guard by his reaction. Unfortunately for him, there was no question that we had to remove these obstructions – our lot is small and the only way to fit our building on it is to build to the property line, which requires some room to work on the outskirts too. We made sure to get a variance from the mayor and an agreement with the adjacent property owner before agreeing to purchase the land. Nevertheless, we do want to have good report with our neighbors so we chose to be sensitive to his distress. We explained that the owner of the property he is renting gave us permission to remove the bushes and trees before we even bought the lot and we showed him our permit and the variance.
Barbeque man said that he didn’t care if Hitler bought the lot, he wouldn’t stand for anyone touching a leaf of a plant near his business. (I couldn’t help but note the negative connotations of his chosen metaphor. Sigh.)
At the sheriff’s suggestion, we called the county appraiser and when he heard the mayor was involved, he came down himself (very impressive, because he is a very busy man who usually sends assistants for these kinds of things). Turns out our property was two inches wider than supposed, which made our case even stronger.
The barbeque man was going ballistic, saying that if we build a business next to his, it’ll ruin him. He doesn’t like the kind of coffee that costs 1.50 a cup, or people who drink it. The mayor pointed out how good it will be for the town to have an upscale business like the one we’re designing. He and many others have been waiting for someone to take the risk and be the first to invest in the area, because then they believe others will follow suit. The town is full of tourists, thanks to the train, but no one is taking the initiative to service them with better quality stores– which is turning out to be a detriment to the future of the town. But barbeque man said he liked the town the way it is and he thinks we should just forget our project and leave the lot empty. Yeah, sure buddy.
We spent three hours trying to appease the man. Mark offered to replant some landscaping on his lot (just to be nice, not because he has to). But the barbeque man remained steamed. The police chief took me aside and said, “These old country boys hate change. He’s just squaller’in because he’s bored. He hated the people on the other side when they moved in too, but two months later, they’re getting along fine. Forget the old fart and do what you have to do.”
In the end, Mark said, “What can I do to make this a better situation, because we’ve invested in this lot and now we must build here to the specifications of the permit, and that means the bushes must be removed. But I’m willing to work with you.”
“There ain’t nothing you can do to make me happy but to go away,” the barbeque man says.
Mark says, “Well, in that case, we are finished here. If you don’t like what we’re doing, we can go to court to settle the dispute – and let me tell you, after what I’ve been through the past few years over my former business; this won’t be a drop in the bucket.” And he motioned for the man in the back hoe to begin and sure enough, bush number one ripped from the earth like picking a flower.
I guess the moment Mark stopped trying to apologize and being nice, the man decided to let it go. He didn’t really want a fight, just wanted to make some noise. He said “Nevermind.” Then goes to sit on his porch to watch the work in progress.
The street was now filled with interested spectators as if watching bulldozer move dirt was the best entertainment in town – and on some days around here, I suppose it is. In ten minutes the bushes are removed and frankly, this increases the visibility of the man’s barbeque place, which is so tucked in the back away from the street that even after 9 months of living here I still had to have Mark point it out.
Mark was kind enough to write a document promising to do some landscaping and to leave the neighbor’s property visually appealing, just to reinforce his good intentions.
Everyone thought he was being more than fair, so they wandered off content. A few hours later, Mark asked it he could borrow Barbeque man’s broom to clean it some dirt on the sidewalk. The man refused, so Mark walked across the street to the grocery store to purchase one so he could sweep the neighbors walkway. (I suppose I should write “dentistry fees” into our business plan because it looks like Mark will be grinding his teeth a great deal in the coming months . . . and so it begins . . .)
When Mark got into the car, I praised him for handling things so diplomatically and with such steady calm. He looked tired. Sometimes I wonder if the emotional scars left by FLEX will ever heal. Life goes on, but man, do we all carry baggage around from it.
I said, “Everything worked out easily enough, if you think about it.”
He said, “I just feel raw inside when things like this happen. It kills me. I wonder if this going to be like owning FLEX where everyone always seems to hate you because you run the place. You can’t win, no matter how hard you try to do the right thing.”
I pointed out that back then, people hit below the belt, attacking us in ways that were very, very personal. You couldn’t help but be hurt when you’d knock yourself out to create a great dance experience and people got mad over things you never suspected would be a problem and they attacked your character for it. Like them blowing up because their child was not given a role they wanted and accusing you of favoritism, or going ballistic because we had to reprimand students for behavior problems that disrupted the learning process. They’d say things like “You’re unfit to be around children!” which always stung. They’d say, “I know you are punishing my kid by having her stand on the back line because we asked for more rhinestones on our costumes last week. You just love humilitaing kids. You get a kick out of it. ” Or some other nonsense. The allegations were always so off the mark it would be funny if it wasn’t so disheartening.
Add to that all those constant digs which revealed everyone’s resentment towards us for being successful, as if we were “taking advantage” of children rather than being modestly rewarded for hard work and talent. There was this attitude that we should devote ourselves to dance out of a love for the art and a commitment to children – that we were not deserving of a good enough livelihood to raise our own children well or to secure our future retirement. The constant snide comments about our personal finances and disgruntled fury about any progress the business made wore our soul flat over time – especially since we made less than almost everyone attending our school – whatever we had was invested back into the studio to make it a nicer place for all. Eventually, we just decided it isn’t worth it anymore. Living a life now without all that madness I realize we probably lasted longer than most people could have under those conditions.
This is different, I assured him. Now, we are fighting about bushes. There is no reason to take that personally. No one is going to scream that we are unfit to be around a cup of coffee – and few people will think we should work 60 hours a week and not get paid decently because we’re supposed to do it out of a love for the brew. And if they do, hell, we’ll sell this business too.
Mark sighed and said, “I suppose you’re right. Still, I wish I could just go about doing my thing to the best of my ability and not have to deal with insane people causing a stink because they don’t understand what it takes to keep a business stable and secure.”
Ha. Would be nice.
But we know that every business in America comes with its share of yucky crap. It is just a matter of making sure the crap you have to handle is crap you can stand to live with.
So, when you look at it that way, fighting about bushes is really no biggie.
The good news is, the construction has begun and we are on our way back into the world of small business ownership – for good or for bad.
We are inviting a slew of headaches into our lives again – a constant need to be creative and diligent – to work as hard as it takes to do a job well. We do not want to be slaves to our work this time around, but we do know our personalities well enough to expect we’ll soon be feeling fairly passionate about our product, service and employees. And we have so many ideas to incorporate in the other areas of the store, like art gallery creations and event planning and a literary center and/or newsletter. Like it or not, that means a great deal of work ahead. Ah well – it makes you feel alive to be building something you believe in and can be proud of.
About two weeks ago, we went to Atlanta to this huge Dessert Expo for people in bakery related businesses. We enrolled Kent and Denver in a professional barista training program and they learned all about latte art, the origin of coffee etc… We thought this would be helpful in case they end up working for us (and they both hope to), but even if they don’t, barista skills will help them get a job in any major city – it’s a great college job. If nothing else, it helps our mature offspring understand what we are doing now and allows them to be a part of it which is important to our family. They loved learning about coffee from a serious angle. Kent came out, put his arm around me and said, “Let’s get this Bean Tree built already. I’m ready to be a barista champion and I need a place to start inventing great, original drinks! This is cool. I love it!” He’d never had a cup of coffee before the class. Now he is ordering cappuccino’s everywhere to judge the quality of the barista and learning about coffee roasters. Ha.
While our kids took eight hours of coffee class, Mark and I spoke to vendors. I was fascinated with all the bakery products, pre-made pastry shells and fancy containers for displays and serving. I especially like the logo imprinted chocolate disks you can order to stick in a fancy pastry to make it a signature dessert. Mark was researching point of sale equipment and security systems. When we all got together for lunch, we took the kids for a stroll through the vendors to sample the weird and fun things we had discovered, like glittered chocolates that taste great but look like balls of sequins (man, where were they when we had a dance school!)– or the hot, spicy chocolates that leave your mouth on fire, or rum cakes that pack a punch, and all kinds of other unusual products. We sampled a dozen flavors of gelato and argued if getting a machine to make it from scratch was worth the expense. It’s one of those “on hold” ideas.
Through it all, we marveled at the subculture of coffee and how crazy and obsessive people can be when they are “into” a vocation. Every interest seems to have a glut of specialized products that you never knew existed before you get seriously involved. I’ve been shocked to discover dance isn’t so unique a business after all – it’s just one more subculture in a world of special interests, and they all require intense involvement and creativity if you wish to excel in the profession. If anything, I’ve learned that every business is specialized and requires serious research to understand it’s uniqueness.
After we couldn’t stand to sample one more sweet nugget, we ate lunch. Needed some “real” food – in this case, a hot dog. (grin)
Denver said, “We’ve been to hundreds of conventions before, but never anything like this. No one is demanding your attention or complaining or crying and there aren’t kids running around everywhere, disrupting conversations or needing to be told to settle down or parents coming at you with fire in their eyes. Everything is mellow and so novel and . . . well, it’s fascinating. I love being here as a family, discovering new things and getting excited about your new enterprise – thanks for inviting us.”
I felt both good and bad about her comment. Good because I like how this new business can be pursued in a way that is non-intrusive of our personal lives – it’s nice to be in a profession that doesn’t hinge on ego stroking or trying to meet wild expectations that inevitably lead to disappointment for those involved. But bad because it reminded me of how difficult our former life was for our children. For all that dance is exciting and fun for customers; it meant constant sacrifice for our family. Even though our kids had fun when they were in the role of “customer” as dance participants – it still meant they were orphans at every dance event – which meant an underlying level of disappointment for them regardless of how other parents tried to step in to assure they made it on stage prepared. Everyone else had their own parents at their side – but they had us too, because we were always FLEX directors and choreographers first and Denver, Kent and Neva’s parents second. My kids never had anyone. No way around it because staying on top of the endless needs of others required 110% of our attention.
The point is, our choice to make a life change was very good for them, and I’m reminded of that all the time by things they say and do.
Anyway, it seems the past few years of prep for “something else” are all coming together now and we are going to thread all our newly acquired skills with the old to create a new life quilt. The hub of our work related interests, the Bean Tree, has finally begun taking root, which was all we needed to put this discombobulated life puzzle together.
In addition to my literary pursuits and our studying the business of coffee and art, and Mark taking woodworking classes and all that, a few other coals have been simmering on the fire that I might as well mention since they are interrelated to our work world.
This week Mark got his real estate license and he has signed with the biggest broker in town. They said, “You don’t have to bother with putting in many hours at the office, because that coffee shop stuck in the heart of touristville of yours is going to be a gold mine. Put a few pamphlets out, make it your home base and you’re good to go.” He has always wanted to be involved in real estate, and he has such an eye for the potential of land and buildings, I’m thrilled he finally followed through and got a license. He will take that ball and run with it – who knows where. Already he has his mother’s house (and ours) to sell – and our builder plans to use him for future listings too. And tapping into the local real estate world means we can market the Bean Tree as a place for business meetings in this subculture too- so that is good in it’s own way as well.
Mark has also received several orders for custom made cabinets for a builder and he’s busy with that too. It is obvious he will be inundated with wood work projects for as much time as he wants to devote to it. He is busy making all the tables for the Bean Tree from scratch and they are striking, (as all his artwork is) He’s designed a building for the Bean Tree that will be an impressive example of his artistic building design, so we expect the Bean Tree will be the best advertisement imaginable for his other new company, as a build/design team for luxury log cabin homes. So, as you can see, we are already tossing multiple balls in the air for our new juggling act. (We sold FLEX to simplify our life? Ha. What happened? Oh I know, we brought ourselves with us.)
I really need to clone my husband a few times so he can do all he wants to do. And that might even mean I could see him for some personal time too. But that is just a fantasy at this conjuncture in our life. Sigh.
The moral of the story is – Life goes on. What are you waiting for? Stop this attitude that you have to “get a life” because the fact is, you are currently living the only life you have – whether it be good, bad, filled with joy, or boring as sin. Your world is the one you created by every decision along the way. But there are still decisions to make and therefore, endless possibilities.