Mike remained active in target shooting competitions, with the dog and me accompanying him to out-of-town weekend events. He also ordered a $1000 custom rifle from our gunsmith friends in Colorado, which I learned about after-the-fact. I was irritated that he’d incurred expenses once again without my agreement, but delighted that he’d offered to pick it up in person that fall. I looked forward to another visit to Colorado and the Coopers.
Once a week we’d stop by our favorite neighborhood mall to relax and discuss our forthcoming trip over a freshly-baked cookie and a soft drink. I was still bent on having a business of our own, and that summer the perfect idea hit me—a small eatery, offering grab-and-go lunch specialties as well as a variety of cookies entirely unlike the ones available there now.
I explained my vision to Mike during one of our evening chats at that little mall. "I could bake cream-puff shells and stuff them with barbequed pork, egg-salad, tuna-salad, or turn them into desserts with pudding or ice cream inside and chocolate drizzled over the top. And cookies … I’d make all those Scandinavian cookie recipes my Mom taught me. I can just see them—arranged on glass shelves inside a display counter with shoppers huddling, nose-to-glass, pointing out their choices."
Over the weeks that followed, I envisioned and researched how to create such a shop, sketching out storefront designs and interior layouts. I calculated the anticipated costs of operation as well as every recipe I thought might be successful.
"Gonna serve coffee?" Mike questioned during one of our weekly chats about it.
"Coffee? Of course! Swedish egg-coffee! And tea. And peppy music like polkas and schottisches that’ll draw the people in and make them smile and want to tell their friends about it."
"Sounds good to me." He grinned. "So, what would you call this place? Helen’s Handouts?"
"No … I first thought of "Ingeborg’s," utilizing my middle name, but then "Puff & Stuff" popped into my brain. I decided it would be a better fit, and easier for customers to remember!" My excitement surged into high gear at the prospect of it all.
"Where would you put it?" Mike’s interest in my idea grew.
"On the second floor, I think. Remember that old-world gift shop that closed? I’d put it there, across from Lamonts. The foot traffic between Lamonts and the Post Office is pretty steady all day long."
I had paid attention to shoppers in that mall for some time now, and noticed most of them carried a Lamonts’ bag. Some carried no bag at all, but rarely did I see a customer leave the mall without stopping to buy a drink or a cookie.
"So … how much would the rent be?"
"Shouldn’t be more than $300 or $400 a month, don’t you think?. We’d only have to sell around $15 a day to make that, but I’ll need to call and find out." I made note of the property management’s phone number posted on the upstairs space before we left that evening.
I made the call the following week, after an interruption in our usual routine to hurry Mike to the emergency room. He’d accidentally slashed his leg while outside whacking weeds with a machete. I was in the basement working on my screen prints when he came rushing into the house that Sunday afternoon.
"I need help," he called to me and raced up the stairs.
I ran after him, my heart pounding. "Did you cut yourself?"
I knew it! I had the feeling he’d get hurt when he first went out to cut down the weeds. "Bad enough for stitches?"
I ran to the bathroom, grabbed a sanitary napkin from my supply and returned to Mike, now sitting in a living room chair. He raised his pant leg so I could slap the pad over his wound. I bound it with strips of gauze, told him to keep pressure on it, and drove to the emergency room at Northgate Hospital. Seventeen stitches later we were on our way home with yet another episode for Mike’s archive of medical tales to tell.
When he went back to work two days later, I called the company that managed the mall. The man who handled that property was not in, so I left a message and our phone number. He returned my call later that afternoon and explained that a two-year guaranteed lease would be required. The rate for that particular space would be $14.32 per square foot.
"How many square feet is it?" I asked.
"That one is nine-hundred-seventy-five," he replied. "A prime spot."
I quickly did the math on my ten-key calculator. "Wow! You’re talking almost $14,000 per month?" I was shocked. No wonder the smaller merchants were always going out of business.
"No, no, Helen." His voice was soothing. "Commercial rent is priced per square foot per year, so this space would average $1163.50 per month. What type of shop did you have in mind?"
I described my Puff & Stuff eatery with hearty enthusiasm, believing he would suggest a smaller, more affordable space.
"I’m sorry, Helen. We don’t want any more food shops in that mall."
Damn! The "D" words dumped on me all at once—dreams dashed, disappointed, disillusioned, discouraged, distraught, distressed—they rendered me speechless.
"Helen? You still there?"
"Yes," I replied, weakly. "I don’t understand why another little eatery would not be welcome there."
"It just wouldn’t. But if you come up with any other ideas, don’t hesitate to call me, I’d be happy to work with you."
"Thanks." I hung up the phone and sat in silence for several minutes before allowing the tears of rejection to trickle down my cheeks.