The Woes of Being a Shopkeeper

The woman who works for me, eleven years my junior and twice as strong, told me that when her hot tub broke, she told a man at her community pool that she needed a rocket scientist to figure out what was wrong with it.

“I’m a rocket scientist,” the guy said.

A good pick-up line? Or was he for real? Anyway, the guy came over, couldn’t figure out what was wrong, and the woman who works for me cut up her hot tub and threw it away, little by little.

Her story reminded me of my business partner’s daughter when we opened up our antique shop.

For anyone thinking about opening up an antique shop, here’s a word of caution. Don’t do it. Ebay has made antique shops obsolete, or as one browsing man said my first month in business, “You don’t sell anything anyone needs. You are never going to make it.”

Aside from his rude manners, the man did have a point, so over time I morphed into a costume shop, because school kids needed costumes for book reports, biographies, field trips, plays, and Halloween.

Back to the rocket science comment – my original partner didn’t work much. Instead, she parked one of her five children behind the counter on her days to work. This was not part of our original agreement, but then I realized that it was pretty loosey-goosey, not a good way to start a joint effort.

If her daughter #2 made an error, her comment would be, “It’s not rocket science, Susan.”

I often wondered that if it wasn’t rocket science, then why did Daughter #2 continue to screw up? The morning I came to open the shop and found the door not only unlocked but also standing open, I looked at my thousands of dollars of inventory inside.

I don’t need this partner anymore.

I changed the locks and called the woman to say we were done.

“I told her to lock the door!” she said.

“She didn’t,” I said.  ‘You are sending your kids to do what you should be doing. It isn’t working out.”

We had lasted five months as partners. I lasted another six years without her after that.

Customers were either super rude or as nice as could be. No in-between.

“Who are you supposed to be?” a woman asked on the first day.

“The Polka Dot Attic,” I said.

“Well, I know every store in Danville, and I don’t know you!” she said as she stormed out.

People came in and stole stuff. People came in to sell me things they had inherited.  I bought from people coming into my shop. Big mistake. None of it sold. What people wanted to sell me was not what I would’ve shopped for. I should’ve said no.

Some people brought in old things and gave them to me. That was okay. If I didn’t like them, I could donate them.

Dishonest people came in and switched tags or took 50 percent off stickers and moved them to other tags.  Some moms wore my costumes and then tried to return them. My workers and I were constantly trying to keep one step ahead of those who were less than honest.

One of my adult workers was skimming cash from the register. I caught her one day and fired her. She said she had taken home the one hundred dollar bill for safekeeping. She sent me hate emails for two weeks.

I made my rent every month but one, July of 2008. I had just moved my shop around the corner and didn’t have a sign yet. The management company said they were going to make it, and they took their sweet time.

I morphed into an everything store. I sold a lot of dishes, new signs, old books, and vintage stuff.  I had trouble with the restaurant patrons next door. They would block my doorway with their bikes and strollers. I would arrive to open my store and move whatever was in my way. They would scream at me. It was ridiculous.

I learned how to be a business woman. I learned how to say not to people. No, I didn’t want to sell their pot potpourri bath salts in my shop. No, I didn’t want to buy their worn cowboy boots that smelled like manure. No, I wasn’t giving them their money back on the antique quilt they put in the dryer until it shredded. No, they couldn’t exchange the costume they bought a year before.

I lost a few customers. But I had a ton of new ones. I gave away free lollipops.

“You’re going to regret that,” one antique store owner said.

I regretted it all the way to the bank. Kids came in for the suckers; their parents followed. They saw what I had. Some of them bought stuff. I gave a coupon for every sale. Come back next month and get 20% off. I had lots of repeat customers.

The management company wouldn’t renew my lease in 2011. They were going to renovate. I had a sale for three months advertising the fact that I was going to close. On the second to last day, I donated everything to the American cancer society. Three guys and a truck packed for five hours and took it away. That’s fifteen man-hours I got for free.

The next day, all I had left were the fixtures. It was a cleaning day.

“Where is that teacup you had in the window?” one woman asked. “I was going to buy it.”

“Gone,” I said. “It was half off for over a month.”

You should’ve bought it when you had the chance.

“Which cancer society store is it at?” she asked.

“I have no idea,” I said.

“Why did you donate it?” she whined.

You snooze, you lose.

Come on, lady, it’s not rocket science.



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