I did some quick checking with the Better Business Bureau and two fellow mall merchants who knew of them. Their reviews were favorable, so I ordered jeans, tops and sweaters in popular colors, size medium and up. They would be delivered in October, perfect timing for me to inspect and make ready for selling in November as holiday merchandise.
I continued to work on my non-fiction correspondence course which I finished with a final grade of A-. The professor assigned to my work offered high praise for my writing, but would never give me more than an A- on my manuscripts.
I continued to churn out my monthly newsletter and note the behavior of customers—like the lady who brought her mother-of-the-bride dress back to be shortened after the wedding. I was down on the floor, marking the hem, when a repeat customer came in to pick up a pair of slacks I had shortened for her. I looked up as she entered and greeted her. "Hello, Betty. I’ll be right with you."
"Clerk! Clerk!" The lady whose hem I was marking hollered down at me, indignantly. "You are serving me right now!"
I wanted to holler back, "Jerk! Jerk!" How much attention did she feel entitled to during her "free shortening" session? I politely reminded her to look up and straight ahead or the hem would not mark evenly, then finished the pinning and soon she was out of the store.
For every rude visitor I encountered, however, there must have been five kind ones. The best visits were from my friend Mally, who stopped by occasionally to see how I was doing. During one of them I admitted to her that I just couldn’t keep up with the MLM business, being short on time and money. Mike and I would keep taking the vitamins and soy protein I had come to believe in for our daily well-being. I’d seen firsthand the improvement in his health—he no longer got the miserable head colds that would, because he was a smoker, keep him coughing for two months. Months when neither of us got a decent night’s sleep.
Other sleepless nights were caused by worry over keeping the store alive until the lease was up and planning its demise. I could hold a year-end sale in January. And another sale on Presidents’ Day in February, then a Going-Out-of-Business sale in March. I could close the store on March 15th—exactly two years after it opened.
I’d need to place ads for the furniture and fixtures, too. Anything not sold would have to be moved out by March 31st. Where to put it? The only logical spot—our basement. I would need to make space for it. I would need to get it sold. I could make signs to post in the store’s windows and upstairs in the mall, although I knew that the maintenance crew would be instructed to remove them. Then there was the year-end bookkeeping that needed to be completed and balanced. The brain buzzards of old swirled around in my head once again, topping my worry list with, as always, Mike.
He’d recently had some trouble keeping his balance out on the road jobs, and our doctor suggested that custom orthotics might help. He’d worn them for three months now, and still complained that they hurt.
"You wore them for too long at first." I’d remind him what the podiatrist had said. "You were suppose to break them in slowly."
"Thought I did."
"I don’t think so—you wore them all day long. Your feet are probably still trying to get used to them. So, maybe take them out at least when you get home? Before you go out again?"
"Yeah, maybe I should." And he did.
The promotional apparel was delivered in October, and did help the cash flow during November and December. I ordered more in early January, plus picked up a few more mother-of-the-bride gowns, to see me through February and into March’s Going-Out-of-Business sale.
While the super group USA for Africa was honing its harmony for the We Are the World release, I was cramming thirty-six hours of work into every twenty-four. It wore me out. It also hastened the days to the store’s closing on the ides of March—a bitter-sweet Friday, incessant and intense.
Women circled my table of priced-below-cost blouses and sweaters, grabbing, inspecting, and commenting on the goods. "Wrong size," one would say, and throw the blouse back onto the pile. "Dry clean only," another followed suit. "How they can sell at this price and still make a profit makes me wonder how much they paid for them." "Not much, you can bet!" came an answer.
Vultures, I thought. Nothing but vultures, swarming around a cooled carcass in the meadow. However distasteful the scene, I realized that these old birds, ugly as they were, served a useful purpose in life.
At nine o’clock that evening I turned out the lights, pulled down the metal door and locked it. I taped a CLOSED sign on it, and drove home. Once into the empty house, I finally let the frustration of the last two and a half years flood my cheeks.
Mike arrived a half-hour later, in good humor but, thank God, not drunk.
"Are you closed now?" he asked.
"Yes. Wish I didn’t have to face that place tomorrow. Every molecule in my body is dead tired, but there’s a lot of work yet to do."
"So, take a day off. " He sat down in his favorite chair and began pulling off his work boots.
"I will. Would you go down there with me, early Sunday morning, and help me paper the windows and load up the office stuff to bring home?"
"Thanks." I walked over to his chair. "I’ll have to figure out a plan to get everything home next week. It’ll have to go into the basement while I try to sell it."
"Fine with me." He stood up, ready to move his boots to the bedroom closet.
"Can I have a hug?"
I saturated his shirt with my frustration—or could it be relief? Suddenly my sensibilities surfaced. "Did you have any dinner?"
"Yep. Shrimp and noodles."
"Good. I’m going to bed then—see if I can get away from all the buzzards flapping around in my head."
I woke up at eight o’clock the next morning to the smell of fresh coffee. Mike was settled into his favorite chair, watching an old western on TV. "Morning, sunshine." He smiled. "Sleep well?"
"Yes, at last! Good morning. Thanks for making coffee."
"You’re welcome. How about we take a drive today, maybe up around Granite Falls. We’ll stop for breakfast first."
Sounded good to me. We left within the hour for what became a very relaxing day, far from the stress of everyday retailing.
The next morning, Sunday, Mike and I papered over the windows in the store and hauled the office furniture and records home. The following week, I spent hours packing boxes in the store. Mike went back with me every evening when he got home from work. Box by box, trip by trip, we stuffed Dress Elegance into my little station wagon and hauled it home.
Saturday of that week, a friend came with a pickup truck and helped load the mirrors, chairs and display racks for their trip to our basement. It took most of that day to remove everything we’d added, including the track lights on the ceiling and the dressing room fixtures. I said my final farewell to the pink mimosa carpeting, the dressing rooms and window display platform that Mike built, the mirrored wall, and the dream.
The next morning we were enjoying a late breakfast in front of the TV when the doorbell rang. I peeked out the living room window, to see if there was a car in the driveway. "Oh my gosh! It’s Mom and Dad … with the Impala! They must’ve come right from church!"
Mike hurried to the kitchen with the last of his breakfast, while I descended the stairs to welcome them. We climbed to the upper level, and I offered to take their coats, serve them coffee.
"No," Mom said. "Thanks, but we just stopped by to ask a favor."
"Sure. What?" I sensed an uneasiness about them.
Mom glanced at Dad, then back at me. "Your father’s been diagnosed with cancer. We’re going to need your help, driving to the hospital and doctor appointments."