The Truth About Our Retail Store

I think a lot of people believe our retail shop closed because we failed to make it thrive.  The real reason we closed the store was because we got to a point where we either needed to put a lot more cash into it or we needed to close it.  We had a lot of equity in our home.  We could have refinanced and pulled plenty out to keep the store going long enough to reach the profit zone.  We could have done it but we didn’t because after a year of running a retail business we were exhausted and realized that’s not what we wanted for our life.  We didn’t enjoy running a retail store.  Our son was really angry with us all the time because of how much energy the store took from him.  From morning to night all we talked about was the store or we were working in the store or making things for the store or trying to market the store.  Even when we were supposed to be paying attention to Max we’d be talking over his head about the store.  Owning a retail store was unhealthy for our family life.

I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to discover how much I dislike owning and running a retail store, something I could never have done in California because it’s so cost prohibitive there.  I might never have had this opportunity if I hadn’t moved to McMinnville.  What satisfies me is knowing that, while I don’t want to be a store owner, at the time we closed our store we were seeing increases in sales every single month.  That’s a healthy sign for a new business.  So I have the satisfaction of knowing that if it had turned out to be my real dream in life, I could have made a success of it.

But there’s nothing like the appearance of failure to find out who your real friends are, to find out who actually gives a shit about you.  Other store owners were very friendly with us and mostly helpful and supportive while we owned a store too and once our shop was closed so was the inclusiveness and only those people who were forced to remain connected to us through other people remained friendly with us on a personal level.

The top 5 things I loved about running a retail shop:

  • Buying and dressing BBQ Bob and BBQ Sue, the store mannequins.
  • Setting the store up and learning to dress my store windows.
  • Getting to know people in town.
  • Going to trade shows in Seattle.
  • Designing my own products for the store.

The top 5 things I hated about running a retail shop:

  • The goddamn ridiculous politics.  The often petty, rudely competitive, and passive aggressive nature of store owners on Third street.*
  • The pressure to be part of the goddamn ridiculous politics of the Downtown Association and the chamber of commerce that never actually did my business any real favors.**
  • The pretend friendliness of people who imply they’re doing you great favors by giving you confidences that stab their other supposed friends in the backs and, not being stupid, knowing they’re doing the same to you.***
  • The goddamn bookkeeping.
  • The never ending work day into night.

I am grateful for the chance to have checked this dream off my list and if you think this is your dream I present you with some unsolicited advice:

  • Have a business plan with a realistic amount of money to back you up.  Depending on where you live you’ll most likely need upwards of a hundred thousand dollars to start.
  • Be prepared for stupid politics with other business owners and associations and if you don’t like the thought of that, be prepared to be an openly disliked dissident to the establishment.
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of a good location.  It’s worth the blood sucking cost.
  • Be prepared to be all things all the time every day and every hour unless you happen to be starting off with so much investment money you can hire others to do your bidding from the beginning.
  • Don’t be both manufacturer and store owner.  Pick one.  Having to work your store all day and sew and design long into the night is incompatible with the rest of your life.

*This will be almost universally denied by everyone on Third Street and I’m sure it will not be appreciated that I’ve said this.  Not acknowledging the reality doesn’t make it untrue.

**There was one notable business downtown who absolutely refused to participate with the Downtown Association or the Chamber of Commerce, they were not well liked for that.  In hindsight, I wish I’d followed their singular lead.

***I will never name names, and what’s the point?  Everyone down there is saying shit about everyone else down there.  And in an atmosphere like that you know that you’re having shit said about you too.  It was way worse than high school.


  1. fala says:

    You know, your advice can also apply to internet shop owners. It’s amazing to me how many people think that running any kind of shop “must be easy” when it’s really, really not, especially if you make everything you sell. It’s SO MUCH WORK. I have to admit, that I’ve often daydreamed of having my own brick and mortar shop, but I can guarantee if I ever did, it would be a tiny shop, it would be a niche shop, and I certainly would NOT make everything I sold. (it would be a bjd doll shop, truth be told, open by appointment.)

    Politics makes everything crappy. When I was selling my art, I dealt with the same sort of back stabbing nonsense. People who backstab only make themselves look bad! I’m sorry you had to deal with that, but I’m glad the whole experience was fruitful for you, even if it meant you needed to move on. Sometimes, the only way to know if something like that will work out is to try it. At least now you know!

  2. angelina says:

    I think some people are better suited for having retail businesses than others and I do think that if you are dreaming it it’s worth giving it a shot. I definitely don’t regret it because I did have some fun with it and I also learned a lot. I think of it as an adventure that I had and am happy is behind me. The politics were the worst!!! I worked so hard not to step on toes – there’s even a hierarchy within the store owners and it was both fascinating and horrifying that these were all adults. I was expected to be very very careful not to carry any product lines that other store owners were already carrying but it was apparently not necessary for them to show me the same respect.

    I think you’re idea of a shop would be great – I love the “by appointment” bit. Just stay away from committees and associations and do what you want and you’ll be golden!

  3. Sarah M. says:

    “Owning a retail store was unhealthy for our family life.”

    I don’t blame you guys – this doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.

    Keith is a retail store manager, for a farming company chain. He doesn’t do anything but run the place and his schedule and how preoccupied he is can still be a total pain in the rear many days. I can’t even imagine being responsible for making the merchandise that y’all were selling too – you are a rockstar for sticking that out for a year, I’d be exhausted!

    Some day, once my kids are grown, I think it would be interesting to own a local yarn shop – but I don’t know if it will ever happen because of how hard it would be.

  4. angelina says:

    If it turns out that you love having a yarn shop the hard work will be worth it. You really just have to love it for it to be worth it. And – you won’t know if you’ll love it unless you try it! Just bear in mind my unsolicited advice!

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