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I hung up the phone, shed a tear of frustration, then wiped it away. I remembered reading during my research that changing the name of a business, especially early-on, meant disaster.

I wrote the dreaded letter the following day, and spent the quiet store hours trying to think up a suitable replacement name. I considered what the women who shopped in my store purchased—mother of the bride dresses, silk scarves, knit two-piece dresses and Lalique glass pendants. Quality stuff. Elegant stuff. Yet, it was a dress shop. I tried all the descriptive words I could think of in different combinations and came up with Dress Elegance.

I spent two days drafting a pattern of those two words, accented with swirling tendrils and leaves, that would fit the oval sign-board hanging in the outside hall. When I asked the mall management if someone could take it down so I could paint it, they refused. "You can’t paint it yourself," I was told. "You must have our sign-painter do it."

And so he did, which left the store without a sign for two weeks and cost me $150. Did they use my custom design? No.

I told myself it was good the whole thing happened during the doldrums of winter, when not many shoppers visited the mall.

In that same dull period, I was called upon to testify against my boss from the Porsche+Audi dealership. I had Linda’s daughter watch the store the day I traveled to the court house in downtown Seattle. It was an ugly day, my stomach churned, and I felt nothing but pity for the man who had generously paid me to keep tabs on his businesses. The next morning I was vomiting with stomach flu. I called the jewelry store across from Dress Elegance, and they obligingly posted a "CLOSED DUE TO ILLNESS" sign on my shop door.

In February, I sent our income and expense records, personal and business, to the CPA who’d done our taxes for the past four years. When I visited his office to pick up our tax return, his comment was, "Congratulations! You only lost $2,000 your first year—that’s amazing! It’s usually much more for first time shop owners." I thanked him and left.

What he didn’t know was I had also lost many nights of sleep over the store’s cash-flow and Mike’s antics, lost my business name, and lost confidence in myself. To make matters worse, I learned from the regional apparel trade paper that a large, discount department store was set to open in north Seattle within the year—less than forty blocks away. The hope that they would hold off until my two-year lease was up added to my list of worries.

That summer I was surprised and encouraged when two different people expressed an interest in buying my store. One owned a small shop in Lake City, the other in Bellevue. They were looking to expand. The last one requested that I find out about transferring my lease and how they could negotiate a renewal. Thank you, God!

My spirit soaring, I called the mall management company and was advised that "your lease is non-transferable," and "no leases for that mall will be renewed, nor new ones issued." Period.

Dashed again! How could I possibly order inventory four months in advance when I could not be certain of having a shop to put it in? That was the last straw for me. I would give up the store when my lease was up next March, but would honor my business commitments.

The off-price department store opened as rumored, and my sales went flat. To fill the hours, I brought my portable typewriter to work, set it on the glass display case, and began typing. Within a short time I signed up for a correspondence course in non-fiction, completing the assignments at the store rather than stewing over the lack of shoppers.

When I tired of the assignments, I’d switch to writing about whatever was happening in front of me—descriptions of the ladies that entered, what merchandise they looked at, how they ignored my "NO FOOD OR DRINK IN STORE" sign, how their children behaved, and remarks they made about the clothing and prices. After a few days of that, I wondered if this unfortunate endeavor, this lemon, could be turned into the proverbial pitcher of lemonade. Perhaps I could write a non-fiction book about my experience that would save others the same agony. Or maybe devise a board game with dice to throw and cards to pick that would provide setbacks or advances by the luck of the draw—"Someone’s child just spilled a cup of cola on your pink mimosa carpeting. Pay $20 to remove the stain and move six spaces back."

Personally, I was far more than six spaces back already—I was physically, emotionally, mentally and financially exhausted. I could have cried when paychecks for the two part-time helpers I had hired began to look good to me. I didn’t get one! It further depressed me to have one of those employees repeatedly say to me, "someday this store will make you rich." The numbers told me otherwise.

The same person also stunned me when she thought her paycheck should have included the day I let her accompany me to the apparel market in Seattle. I invited her because she had previously expressed an interest in seeing an apparel trade show. I saw it as a gift of my time, a learning-experience for her. My error.

The August trade show, featuring holiday wear, would be my last. I ordered very little—some sparkly sweaters and earrings, and a few inexpensive but pretty gift items. The polyester mother-of-the bride dresses continued to sell well, some of them to ladies about to take a Caribbean Cruise, which required a formal gown. I offered to shorten those dresses after the wedding or cruise for no additional charge, which I did.

Between writing and selling the mother-of-the-bride and cruise-ship dresses, I kept busy until Christmas. It was nice to have a whole day off.

Mike’s gift to me was his promise to quit smoking. After four days, he became so crabby I couldn’t stand him! As a tool to keep my sanity, I secretly bought cigarettes and hid them in the kitchen. When the going got tough, too tough to take, I would hand him a pack.

Thereafter, he regularly searched the cupboards and drawers for my stash. To stop smoking was a promise he could not keep.


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