Confessions of a Shop Owner: Part One
Posted on March 3, 2009 by swizemann
Yesterday, I was reminded once again that drinking tequila in the afternoon is never a good idea, even if it is your day off. Margaritas sometimes sound so irresistible that I forget how sad they make me. I don’t know if I’m alone in my affliction, but there is no doubt in my mind that the fermentation of the blue agave plant is the source of my despondency. Though the circumstances may vary, the stages of my tequila depression tend to follow the same trajectory, which is as follows:
1 – Sublime happiness.
2 – Wistful longing.
3 – Woebegone hopelessness.
4 – Inconsolable melancholy.
By drink #4, what started as a deep conversation about life and the pursuit of happiness has left me reduced to tears, bemoaning the state of the universe. Despite their best efforts, my drinking companions can never quell my laments. What, you may ask, has anything of this to do with life in lingerie? Well, I’ll tell you…
I harbored under the misconception that owning a retail store would be a lucrative endeavor, unlike say, for example, a career as a Classical Japanese Dancer or a Documentary Filmmaker, two pursuits I’ve long since abandoned due to their inherent artistic (and consequently unprofitable in this country) nature. I’m a pragmatist, after all, and I know that I need to make more than minimum wage to survive. As a child, you’re often told to follow your heart to find true happiness. Seemingly in the same breath, your parents, teachers and role models will tell you to pick a stable career path so that you can support yourself and your future family. The sad truth of the matter is that very few people manage to do both. I know so many artists who barely scrape by, and many of my friends who do make a decent living are desperately unhappy with their job selection.
For some time, I thought I was one of the lucky few who had found a middle ground – I love my store! I enjoy my work! I am paying my bills! And I do consider myself very fortunate to still have a job in this economy. But yesterday I came to the shocking realization that owning a small boutique is a labor of love and not a profitable endeavor. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either a) lying, b) independently wealthy, or c) charging you too much. It’s tough enough to keep a store stocked, staffed and in the black under normal circumstances, but it’s almost impossible to do it in a recession. It’s heartbreaking to see so many shops closing right here in Portland, knowing that someone has poured their heart and soul into the business. I know I’m not the first person to say it, and I won’t be the last, but I must reiterate how important it is to shop local in these dire times. In doing so, you are supporting not only local business owners and their employees, but also the independent designers they carry, many of whom are struggling even more than the shops.
A good friend and fellow business owner once told me, “You will always lose money when you do it for love,” in reference to the merchandise you sell because it makes your heart sing, not because of how much money it will make you. I think of this with a shudder every time I have to sell a beautiful garment for less than I paid for it. Don’t get me wrong – I am a bargain hunter by nature, so I love a good sale as much as the next girl. But it kills me to think that I may not be able to afford to support the talented designers who make clothing by hand and pay their employees a proper living wage. I simply cannot imagine buying an inferior product that has been manufactured in a sweatshop, then trying to sell it to someone at a ridiculous mark-up, and I cannot fathom how some stores operate this way! Fortunately for me, I have the most amazing customers who appreciate quality merchandise and understand the costs involved, and for that I am extremely grateful. So thanks to those of you out there who have continued to support Lille over the past two years. Here’s hoping we will weather the storm together. Just remind me not to drink tequila again until the clouds pass.