I was at work about two and a half years ago when I felt me phone vibrating in my pocket. It was my beloved husband Russell, so I stepped outside to take the call.
“I think I just quit my job.”…
I picked my jaw up off the sidewalk, dusted it off, and resisted the urge to reach through the phone and smack some sense into my darling spouse.
I don’t remember exactly what words were exchanged in the minutes that followed, but along with plenty of colorful language that I shouldn’t repeat here, I can assure you that our conversation was filled with pointed questions such as, “What on earth are you thinking?”, “What are we supposed to do now?”, and “Are you out of your #@*%-ing mind?”
When Russell and I first met, he was working in a doctor’s office that specialized in ophthalmology and cosmetic surgery. He was great at his job, and had a way of making customers feel welcome and completely comfortable in spite of whatever procedure they were having done. He’s always had a special gift, the ability to make people fall in love with him from the moment they meet.
While he was good at his job, his job wasn’t necessarily good for him. The pay was okay and it could be fun sometimes, but it didn’t particularly interest him and they didn’t treat their employees with nearly as much kindness and respect as they deserved. (I know, it probably sounds like just about everyone’s job.) It wasn’t his dream job by any stretch, but he was comfortable and it was easier to stay than to start over.
Little by little though, for many reasons I won’t get into here, he became more and more unhappy. I knew that he wanted to find something else, but by that point we were newlyweds with two dogs, no savings, and plenty of wedding-related debt. I wanted to be rational and realistic about it. Of course I wanted him to be happy, but I also wanted a roof over our heads and plenty flour, sugar, and cocoa in the cupboard.
About a year earlier, Russell had found us a new barber after our former barber (and dear friend) moved away, and it didn’t take her long to recognize what an outgoing and friendly personality Russell had. One day he mentioned that he was unhappy at work and she said she’d be willing to train him in her shop if he ever left. Ever the enterprising business owner, she knew that anyone could learn how to cut hair, but the real skill was knowing how to talk to people and get them to come back to you again and and again. She already owned two shops, was opening a third, and was always on the lookout for new people, so she tried to help cement the deal by mentioning how much money he could be making.
We discussed it for a bit and as tempting as it sounded, we decided that an apprenticeship would take too long, and the faster option of going to barber school was just out of financial reach for us. Russell wasn’t sure he’d like it any more than where he already was, and while she promised easy money, we had no idea what the reality would be.
So, level heads prevailed and he decided to keep pushing along where he was and try to find something in a line of work he was already trained to do.
Then, on that fateful day, there was a great big heavy straw and a frail old camel with an overloaded back.
I was furious (and absolutely terrified) at first but I knew why Russell had to quit and what a relief it was to him. I also
knew hoped that everything would work out in the end and we’d be just fine when the dust settled.
Finding ourselves between a rock and a hard place, we reached out to some friends and family to borrow a little money. Within a few days, Russell enrolled in barber school and we were off to the races. He got his license, started learning the ropes and building up his clientele, and before I knew it he’d paid back all the money we’d borrowed in those scary first days. In less than a year he was one of the busiest and most requested barbers in the company.
Even since that fateful phone call, Russell’s been happier and better off than he’d been for all the time that I’d known him. Things have been going just swell for over two years now, but you’ve probably guessed by now that that’s not where the story ends.
Earlier this summer Russell mentioned that he’d like to start considering, one day in the distant and unknown future, opening a shop of his very own. While we were definitely better off than we’d been two years earlier, we still had very little money in savings and hadn’t really ever considered the idea before, so this discussion was entirely hypothetical. We ultimately decided to start putting away a little extra money here and there and open ourselves up to the possibility that this might, just might, eventually happen way down the line.
Just to get an idea of what it might take to make this dream a financial reality, he started looking at commercial real estate online. He wanted to see what kind of spaces were available where, and for how much. About a week later he found a listing that was so close to our house, and so reasonably priced, that he couldn’t get it out of his head. Mind you, this wasn’t supposed to happen for another year or two at least, and we were in no way prepared for what we were about to get ourselves in to, but once he knew the address there was no stopping him. He started by walking by just to see what the foot traffic was like and what else was around it, and within a few days he contacted the listing agent.
The day we saw the space was a complete emotional whirlwind. We saw it in the morning and even though the agent was there the whole time and we couldn’t speak privately, thanks to a few excited glances we knew exactly what was going through one another’s minds.
First, the space was much smaller in person than we imagined from the photos. Second, it was absolutely disgusting beyond belief and needed a ton of work. Third, it had an obvious pest problem that the listing agent tried to cover up in the most hilarious way ever. Fourth, it was barely over a block from our house, in a great location, and really well priced.
We saw it, took some photos, and told the agent we’d get back to him if we were still interested. We tried to play it cool but we were both wrecks. The space required soooo much more work than we had originally anticipated and we didn’t know if we could afford it or handle making it happen. Holes in the front facade, big chunks of missing drywall, weird blue plastic covering where the drywall had once been, and piles of whole acorns inside the framing behind said missing drywall. When we casually mentioned the acorns, the listing agent, with a completely straight face, said that they were probably just left there by the previous tenants who were probably just eating a lot of nuts before vacating the space.
Of course, Mr. Smarmy Listing Agent.
After ripping out an entire panel of drywall exposing the framing and exterior brick for some reason, then covering the hole with thin blue plastic, the previous tenants decide to sit down for a nut break in the vacant space and toss (whole) acorns inside the wall cavity exactly behind the framing.
There were more holes in his explanation than there were in the walls, and I had to bite my tongue not to laugh in his face.
Cool story Bro, but civilized human beings don’t eat raw acorns…
But I digress.
In the following 24 hours we both flipped positions for and against the idea multiple times. Ever the realist, I was against it at first. It was too much work, it would be too expensive, and we had no significant savings to speak of. Russell was all for it. It was so close, so affordable, and was such a perfect (small) size for his first shop on his own. He called a friend of his who specializes in commercial real estate in Manhattan, told her about the shape the space was in, and I could sense that he was beginning to realize that we might be in over our heads with this place. Oddly enough, as reality was setting in for Russell, my imagination was beginning to run wild. I’m a handy guy. I love DIY projects, and this would (eventually) be the ultimate blank slate for me to put my touch on. What was left of the drywall was in rough shape under the crappy crumbling cabinets and cheap chippy mirrors, but that wasn’t anything a little white subway tile and a splash of hutzpah couldn’t fix. Was it?
By the end of the day me and my imagination had talked him back into it.
The next step was to get an estimate from a contractor to help us with the things I couldn’t do myself. To our novice eyes, this was a daunting job, but our contractor actually said differently. The space had previously been set up as a nail salon, so much of the plumbing and electrical we’d need was already in place (or so we thought…). A bit of demo, a bit of drywall, and figuring out what to do with the floor. Everything else we planned to do ourselves.
We ran some numbers, figured some figures, and started considering our options. Our situation definitely wasn’t ideal, but we could put some of it on credit cards, and between family and friends we hoped we could scare up the rest.
Of course there was also the uncomfortable task of actually asking for money, but once we’d figured that out we were off to the races. Thank you thank you thank you to everyone who believed in us enough to help us out, especially you Mom! Seriously, there aren’t enough words in the English language for us to thank you properly.
And then things really got moving…
Once we’d finished with the lease negotiations (UGH!), it was time to finalize our plans with the contractor and figure out a timeline.
To our extreme surprise (and delight), he was able to start the day we got the keys! It all happened so fast in fact, that I never even had a chance to take any official “before” photos, besides the quick iPhone snaps I took the first day we saw the space. (SORRY FRIENDS.) After that, there was so much dust and debris and commotion that I was afraid to bring my camera over until it was all done. So, unfortunately, the only evidence I have of this whole crazy process exists in the form of grainy, poorly lit iPhone photos taken at bizarre angles.
I know things look totally crazytown in these pictures, but to us, this was progress. Sweet, chaotic, tangible progress. There was no turning back, and every piece of debris pulled from down from the walls, and every heap of rubble piled in the corner, was one step closer to independence. The weeks and months that followed were some of the longest, most hectic, and most stressful of my life, but now that it’s all behind us it seems like it came and went in a flash!
I know this is one hell of a place to end things, but there’s still soooo much more ground to cover and I’ve been rambling for way too long already.
Sorry friends! But I promise I’ll be back in the next couple weeks to show you some actual progress and pretty stuff!