Tuesday, July 31, 2007

I'm on my own at the store this week. I have gotten used to having Patrick around during most of the busy days. Tomorrow is comic day, which I'm just going to do in a steady, calm way. No panic if it doesn't get done immediately, and save the unessential stuff until Thursday. Just explain to everyone that I'm trying to do two jobs.

Meanwhile, when I go home every night, the parking garage feels empty. I could swear there were more spaces taken in the fall, winter, and spring. Makes me wonder how the restaurants are doing on non-weekends....

We came in at low estimate this month. Not so much because of tourists, though they didn't seem anywhere as willing to spend this year as in previous summers, but because my regulars didn't show up much. Comic sales were actually down from April, which rarely if ever happens.

Still, even my low estimate is pretty good compared to years past, so I'll take it.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The little store by Mondo's was Gambit. I never actually ever went into Brad's store. It is always....uncomfortable to visit the competition, even though I know I should. Anyway, I doubt I'll be able to carry a whole lot more board games than he was...I don't know. Board games have been added to a very full store. I have room to add maybe a third more, maybe half more.

But it is fertile territory for the new store...

The problem is trying to carry mainstream games like Monopoly and Risk. (And I'm sure just about every other Milton Bradley or Hasbro game) I pay more than the mass market sells for. Chess, checkers, backgammon, poker.... Do I carry those?

I'm exploring the perimeters of the German style games. The store I visited in Astoria had tons of them, so I know there is a ways to go.

(Damn,...this was meant as a comment, I've got to quit doing that.)
One of the more interesting things to happen in the store in the last six months has been the relative success of board games. It's not enough to keep me in business, but it's become a nice little sideline. And pretty much unexpected.

I brought them in because Gambit Games was closing, and I'd kinda heard rumbles about Settlers of Cataan and Ticket to Ride and Descent. While individually fairly expensive, in the 25.00 to 80.00 range, it's wasn't that hard to get a beginning inventory. As it turned out, they needed a very small footprint. Like Sports Cards, they are stackable and you can really carry quite a bit of product in a small space.

Board games, it turns out, need no real display at all.

Why? They aren't an impulse item. They are sought after. The usual scenario is, I get a call, someone asks in a little bit of a forlorn voice, "Have you ever heard of a game called Carcassone?"

Why yes, I answer, smiling because I know the response I'll get.

"Really! Cool! I'll be right down!"

When I ask them how they heard about the game, the answer is almost always, "We were at a friends house and played it."

It's a pure word-of-mouth game, at that stage where the customer feels as though they lucked out finding it. It's always great when that happens. Like you are an oasis. Unfortunately, this golden age rarely goes on forever. The mass market will eventually catch on, but for now it's fun. This doesn't happen every day, or it would already be taken. No, this is just below the radar.

They aren't electronic, they require sitting down with friends, they are fairly complex and the European games are mostly non-violent: settling a territory, (Settlers of Cataan), building a city,(Carcassone), or traveling (Ticket to Ride.) They are cooperative type games, and I think feel exotic and special to people. I guess the term they use for these games is, German-style....

They aren't difficult to learn, but have complex dynamics which keep them interesting. They all have expansions. I sell one about every other day, or so, maybe every third day....so they aren't raking in the dough, but they do sell, and that is still a surprise.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

I think I'm in classic "Hurry up and Wait!" mode, right now. At first, I thought I'd have to hold my landlord off, while I had time to think and investigate. He did ask for a letter of intent, but my feeling was that was just to show his bank that there was some fool out there willing to pay his price, and to borrow more money. Since then, haven't heard much from him. I feel used....

Just kidding. I talked to him on Thursday, and he said the lawyer was drawing up a contract.

Besides, I told myself going in that if it was meant to be, it would happen in a way that made it happen. Or not...

I've done a lot of thinking, and one thing is becoming obvious. I won't be able to toss off this store. It is going to require some real creativity, effort and caring. At the same time, I don't want the downtown store to be hurt. I was in cleaning up this morning, and there is very little besides not having enough space that I don't like about it.

So I'm in limbo right now. I can do all kinds of thinking and planning, but I have to hold off implementing anything.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

I have consistently underestimated the internet. About the only thing I got right was the basic uselessness of a web site -- at least, if I had to pay a lot of it. Seems like 5 or 10 years ago I'd get one guy after another trying to sell me on a website, and none of them could explain how it would benefit me.

Now...well, it can be done for next to nothing. So, that might work. But paying mucho bucks for it a few years ago? Not so much.

(oops, this was supposed to be a comment. ah, well...)
My god, new fixtures are expensive! They're the big dog gobbling my budget. There's a reason most comic shops have used fixtures, I guess. There just ain't enough money in 2.99 comics to pay for these monsters. I haven't even figured out the trucking costs, which must be horrendous.

I was hoping to have consistent style and look, clean and crisp and fresh, and for it to be modular. Everything four feet wide, everything pretty much the same color scheme. Slatwalls are easy, four feet by 8 feet. I intend to fill almost every wall.

It's the middle of the floor fixtures that are killing me. The glass cases, the register stands, but most especially, the magazine racks. These just aren't to be found used, very often, and are incredibly expensive. Bookshelves, we found a source that we fixtured the Bookmark, and they look nice.

The last time I started a store from scratch, we had our fixtures designed and made. This turned out to be a bit of a mistake, even though they looked great, they were huge and heavy and overwhelmed the little 300 sq. ft. space. But that was a small store -- the new one is going to be 2200 sq. ft. !

Nothing can kill a store buzz faster than looking empty and sparse. The trick is to look sufficiently full, and still give yourself enough room to improve and expand your selection, once you know what direction the new store is going to go.

Even knowing all the tricks, which shortcuts I can take, which fixtures can be made to fill the space and so on, it's intimidatingly expensive. I'm going to do something different this time, and order just one of each of the fixtures I'm eyeing, and see how they really look and whether they'll work. Nice to have time to do that.

I'll keep my eyes open for any stores that are liquidating in the next couple of months. And meanwhile, I thrashed out a budget with the catalogs last night with new stuff that I think will do the job, look nice, and not cost the farm. I'm not kidding, though, that anyone who hasn't had the experience I've had would probably spend twice as much just getting started.

And then there is the inventory. The nice thing about comics these days is that there are hundreds of evergreen books that sell over and over. The bad thing about starting a new comic book store is that you have to buy hundreds of new graphic novels that are evergreen that sell over and over. The 'old days' of starting your store with your own collection of back issues and this months comics are long gone.

I used to be able to buy a case (twenty boxes) of sports cards for 200.00; and since there was only Donruss, Fleer, and Topps to buy, I could get them all. Break a couple of boxes for singles, and you were in business. Now you can barely buy a single box of cards for that, and there are literally hundreds of brands. I was offered a box of cards this week for 450.00, my cost, with a single pack of cards. "What are they, made of gold?" She laughed, and said that everyone she had called had said the same thing.

Card Games are close to 100.00 a box, boardgames run around 40.00-80.00. Don't even get me started on new books; I was able to bring in new books little by little at my downtown store, but I never intended to carry thousands of titles, just the low-growing fruit, the very, very best, the stuff that everyone asked for but rarely came in used. There is dice, miniatures, rpg's, and all the accessories.

I'm good on back issues, older cards, used books. But I don't dare start a store with those, anymore.

Toys are going to be fairly easy. They come in cases with multiples of the same toys, which are usually just stuck in storage. I can almost replicated the downtown store, one on one, without spending a whole lot more.

The bar to opening a new store has risen much much higher. No wonder not too many new stores are opening. The return on investment just isn't there. I think I can pull it off because; I have a hefty portion of good material that is duplicated in my store; I know how to swing some beginning deals with my suppliers, all of which I have good credit with; and I know exactly what to carry, what's selling and what isn't; and because I have enough time to get it ready. Again, anyone starting from scratch would probably have to spend twice as much, and make many mistakes along the way. (For instance, looking at the lists of comics best-sellers and ordering on that basis would KILL any new store. I have titles that are in the top ten that just don't sell, and other titles way down the list that sell like crazy....")

Experience counts.

I enjoy this process. I want the store to look nice. It would defeat my purpose if I were to throw a hodgepodge of fixtures and product in there and hope it's adequate.

I think because Linda's store came together so easily, I thought I could do the same thing. But we'd spent years accumulating books, knew about how to go about getting more, and never had to invest in new, retail product. We really only needed to buy one type of fixture, bookshelves, and we found an affordable source of nice looking and modular shelves.

P2 is way more complicated. I'll have to finally go and get a cell phone, it might make sense to buy a used pick-up so that product can be transported from store to store, I'll need yet another computer. This time I'd like to put in a fridge and a microwave and so on and so on.

I let myself design and plan without limit, then I go back and ask myself what I really need and can really afford.

I'm not opposed to using used fixtures, if a good source popped up in the next month or so. Because it would save thousands of dollars initially. I could buy one third new modular, and then replace the fixtures as I can afford them. (Can't do this downtown, where everything fits together within half an inch. Replace one fixture and the whole house of cards comes tumbling down. I do that about every year or so...)

As I said, this is actually the fun of doing this. Going online, as IHTBYB has encouraged me to do just bores the daylights out of me. It's the physical nature of creating business that I enjoy.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Super Burrito is gone.

I've told this story before, but it bears repeating.

Around 1995 or 1996, my wife started to lobby to sell our mall store. It was still profitable, so I resisted. But our north end section of the mall started to get really weak. I'd go into K-Mart and see half empty shelves and no customers. The restaurant across from us had a series of vendors who would pack up and leave in the middle of the night. The 4-plex theater started getting the dregs of movies once the Pilot Butte theater was built. And so on.

The south end had always been sort of weak, and now the north end was looking just as bad. But I thought, maybe if the other merchants banded together, maybe started a program of helping enlist and help new businesses, or to reinforce existing businesses, maybe something could be done. I was admittedly vague, and even now I don't know exactly what we could've done.

So I started working my way toward the center of the mall, talking to other merchants. The closer I got to the center, the more dissed I felt. Finally, a couple of stores that shall remain nameless in their utter stupidity, said to me,

"We're doing great! What wrong with you?"

"We have gangrene at both ends of the mall," I said. "Doesn't that concern you?"

"No," they both said. "Go take care of your own business...."

So I marched back to my wife's store and said, "You're right. These people can't see what coming, let's sell."

By the beginning of 1997, we had sold out. The store and the mall went on for another 5 years of so, slowly dying, and I counted myself lucky.

Super Burrito is gone. Just few years ago, I did a survey of that building, and every one of the tenants said they weren't worried. They had leases. Everything was just fine. I shook my head. The new owners had said, "We don't plan on any changes...." which means RUN! RUN AWAY!

So the building is going to have almost complete turnover. The St.Clair building had total turnover. The Franklin Crossing corner had complete turnover. The Old Mattress factory building had complete turnover. The four closest buildings to mine have had COMPLETE TURNOVER!

Now, I think I have good landlords. I believe them when they say they aren't intending to make any changes. But the momentum of downtown change itself may force the issue. The owner may get an offer he can't refuse. He may like my store, but that doesn't mean he won't want to charge the going rate. This rate would be about 35% more than I'm currently paying per foot, and nearly twice as much as I'd be paying at my second location.

I'm still a believer in downtown. So the solution to me is to have two locations, and enough flexibility to adapt the circumstances.

I had really horrible dreams last night. I dreamed I came to my store, and it was unlocked. I had a complete meltdown with my employees.

Now normally, I consider my dreams to be opposite of what's happening in my life. Happy dreams when things aren't going well, horrible dreams when they are. It's like my subconscious is trying to create a balance.

But I woke up, thinking of all the bad experiences I've had with employees over the years (I've had good ones, as well, of course but this was a really bad dream, I'm telling ya,) and thinking maybe I'm just not ready.

This kind of vacillation drives my wife nuts, but it's how I make my decisions. I accumulate data and feelings until I finally know what I want to do. Meanwhile, obviously I think I'm going to do it because I've already spent 6k on product for the new store. I guess I feel I have until I sign on the dotted line....

Meanwhile, just for chuckles, there is a new sign in the Kuishindo Kitchen space -- I believe it says "KIDSPORT, a kid's clothing store..."

(Edited: the store is called TREEFORT.) (Kind of a cool name, actually.)

Clothing store

jewelry store

home decor

clothing store

home decor

jewelry store

art gallery


Thursday, July 26, 2007

Looking more and more like I'm going to do the second store. I've been ordering a lot of product that has to be ordered now, which the current store could only absorb in piecemeal.

Of course, if the U.S.A. turns into a third world country (with diving dollar, stock market, and houses).....who knows.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

This whole blog thing has been a huge learning experience. I was pretty naive about it, when I started. I didn't realize, for instance, that most people were anonymous, except those who where using it as a marketing tool or as online columns for webmags.

I doubt I could talk about what I talk about without revealing who I am anyway, so that's O.K. I suppose I didn't really expect anyone to be reading it. Never occurred to me to make it a marketing tool.

And I was totally surprised when it was quoted elsewhere.

It's occurred to me that by talking so much about the local housing bubble and local problems, that I've limited the blogs appeal to other comic retailers or a national audience. Or by talking about local business, I may have turned off people who are only interested in housing issues and vice versa. Or throwing in the occasional completely personal blog, I'm boring everyone else.

But, I set out on this venture without an agenda, and I'm not going to change now.

I had a reader, DK, in yesterday, who told me I was way more 'mild' in real life, and more 'acid tongued' in my blog. Which surprised me. I thought it was the other way around. But actually, I say pretty much the same things in both places. I'm wondering if, by associating with other bloggers who aren't quite as restrained, I'm getting conflated with them.

He also mentioned that I hadn't really responded to his comments. For which I apologize. I've tried to answer everyone who's commented, but I don't really want to engage in arguments with anyone either.

As DK was standing there, a lady came in and bought my second to the last Harry Potter Book (thanks to all eight of you who have purchased the book from me!). She thought it was rather weird that I told her she could buy it cheaper 'elsewhere'.

Maybe so. Maybe I'm over sensitive to pricing criticism. I went through years of it with toys and cards, and learned that a sale wasn't as important to me as a happy customer.

Besides, I'm almost sold out anyway!

Was feeling pretty stressed by the numbers of people in the door, yesterday. Was tired, and therefore probably more 'mild' than DK expected. I worry that in real life I'm just not what people expect. The writer, afterall, is writing words from a very different place than a conversationalist. The writer's I've met over the years have always been a bit unprepossessing. Impressive neither in stature or manner.

But if I liked their writing, I forgave them.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

I just talked to Chuck Arnold of the Downtowners, and he informed me that there is indeed a set limit to the street closures allowed, and that we were at that limit now. And that the reason the streets were closed on Friday this year is because two main events fell on the same weekend, and that it wouldn't happen again.

I told him that it might be a good idea to put that fact in the newsletter so that we all know. It must be my imagination that we've added events, or perhaps we had a bit of flux.

So, my call for a freeze is unnecessary, apparently.
I held my breath when the Source published parts of my blog. I thought the comments were taken out of context (I know, isn't that what everyone says?) and even to some extent misrepresented (implying that I was against the "Twilight Criterion" when I pretty clearly pointed to the 1:00 street closure.)

So even though I said those words, it always sounds so much worse when someone else quotes them.

From the reaction on the Source web site, I didn't come off too bad. But I don't know if they will publish any of those comments. So, I guess I'll find out this Wednesday...

Meanwhile, I can almost feel the euphoria of the last few years start to fade a little in the downtown business community. I haven't really talked to anyone, and they wouldn't tell me if I did. So this is just a feeling on my part. But I think there is an awareness that there might be a reckoning. I'm hearing and reading of many more postponements, and layoffs.

The Scwhab Theater series is losing out-of-towners -- they attribute it to the 'age' of the acts, but could it be that the newness is wearing off? Same thing with some of the restaurants downtown. I've avoided saying things about the Deep; but I really have to wonder where this leaves Mirenda in the scheme of things. I certainly don't see the crowds there I used to see. In fact, while downtown has been fairly busy with people, I just haven't got the sense that as much business is being transacted.
The garage isn't packed every night when I go home. In fact, sometimes it's half empty.

I thought it interesting that the Bend Visitor and Convention Bureau chose to save funds for the "offseason" instead of giving it to two established events, the Cascade Festival and BendFilm. That's what I'm talkin' about!

I've mentioned before that I don't think that the rich rich spend spend in downtown Bend, except incidentally. That we've seen such a huge surge over the last five years, that even the spillover of money was enough to give the illusion that 'high end" stores could do well. But when a surge fades, the first thing that disappears is the spillover.

I've always felt it was safer to target the longterm residents of Bend as your main customers -- which, I believe, is the exact opposite of what most everyone downtown is doing. Indeed, they seem sort of dismissive of the less than well-off crowd. I don't mind taking tourist and newcomer money, but it's more than a little unpredictable. Should I base my business on a group of people who constantly say, "I didn't know you where here?" Even when they've been in Bend for 3, 5, or even 7 years? (Hey, there's this wonderful invention called the Yellow Pages, and this newfangled thing called Google! We're in there!)

I just have my doubts about people who seem to show so little interest in their surroundings? I had a guy in the other day -- nice guy, but he didn't know ANYTHING about Bend. I went down the scale of landmarks, until I got to Pilot Butte -- which he didn't know.

That isn't as unusual as it sounds. I sort of felt the same way about Eugene when I was there for school. I didn't care, because I knew I was leaving....

Makes me wonder if all these new "residents" are going to stick it out if things get tough. Or will they pack up and move to the next paradise. (They paved paradise and put up a parking lot...oh,la,la...)

Monday, July 23, 2007

I shall fear no spoilers. Actually, I finished Harry Potter yesterday. Great fun, and I'll miss the series. But there is so much great fantasy out there.

The GOLDEN COMPASS movie is coming; warrior polar bears, hot air balloons, and the storming of heaven! Cool!

O.K. The reason I'm so late with a entry today, and am talking about light stuff, is that I admit I'm having doubts about opening a second location. And then doubts about the doubts and then doubts about the doubts of the doubts.

Argghh. I've never really ever had such a big decision that seems so utterly equally divided between positives and negatives.

Even my feeling seem to swing equally.

I'm going to keep mulling it over, and sleeping on it, for a while longer. I want to be fair to the landlord, so I expressed a smidgen of doubt to him last week. I've basically got until the end of the month if I want to order material out of the regular order form.

I don't think I can keep changing my mind for weeks and months. I'll have to decide.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Here's an irony, at least for us 'bubble busters.' But the Bulletin feels it necessary to defend itself from slanted coverage of the real estate market -- for being too negative!

Funny. But we bubble busters don't buy ads, do we?

When I first saw the drop in building permits, the 67.1% didn't seem enough; 143 starts vs 434. But the math is right.

There is the little matter of Bend's starts dropping 74.3% however.

I'm trying to imagine what I'd feel if I saw my future business dropping almost 75%. I'd be looking for an out, that's for sure.

Those are some horrendous numbers.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

I'm reading.....I'm reading....!

Normally, I'm not the type to wait in line for the opening of a movie, or the first to read a book. (This time I had an inside track and could be first in line...hee, hee, hee.) But I am the type whose brain insists on figuring out any surprises, given the slightest clue.

I read a review of the Sixth Sense that mentioned that the Bruce Willis character was shot by a patient in the first paragraph. And then four paragraphs down, the review said the Hayley Osment character saw "dead people" and in the last paragraph that there was a surprise....and my brain made the immediate connection.

So I'm staying away from news stories or reviews until I'm done with the book.

I stood over the DO NOT OPEN BEFORE JULY 21, DO NOT OPEN BEFORE JULY 21, DO NOT OPEN BEFORE JULY 21 with a pair of sharp scissors and threatened anyone who came in the door with death if they touched the box.

Pat figured that J.K. Rowling had joined the terrorists, and that all the boxes in all the bookstore of America would explode at midnight. A customer figured there was a signal inside that went directly to the F.B.I.

My take was that a golden glow would emerge that would melt my face.

It was felicitous to see the Harry Potter movie in the last week. The book is like visiting old, dear friends.

I'll say this about the format. They've really stretched the space between the words, the margins, the space between the sentences. I'm sure its the Harry Potter book with the most words, but the way they made the tome made damn sure it was the biggest...

I had a customer recently who was convinced the smaller thickness of the trade paperbacks meant they were "abridged." It never actually occurred to me; I believe legally you must label a book abridged. When I counted the sentences and words per page, sure enough they were condensed, but not abridged.

Interesting to me that someone, maybe alot of people, are walking around thinking because a book is smaller in physical size that it's somehow abridged.

Anyway, I'll be busy this weekend reading....

Friday, July 20, 2007

No wizard can make me stay open till midnight.

Somehow I think Harry will still be around on Saturday. It will totally surprise me if
we sell all our copies -- sympathy buys, maybe. I've told Pat to till everyone that it's cheaper elsewhere and won't hurt our feelings....

But if you just got to have it....
Double Harry Potter Alert!

The box showed up, so we WILL have it for sale on Saturday! It's covered by tape, DO NOT OPEN UNTIL JULY 21, 2007, DO NOT OPEN UNTIL JULY 21, 2007, DO NOT OPEN UNTIL JULY 21, 2007.

Gee, I wonder if they'd mind if I opened it today.

Just kidding!

I guess this is the perils of instant communication. Apparently, they sent something off to us today. A double order?

On sale, 11:00 Saturday, 10% off.
Harry Potter alert!

I'm not getting them till Tuesday....which is what would've happened if I'd never spent 5 hours of my life signing affidavits that I wouldn't sell early, tried to fax them for 3 days, than having to do it again.

The lady at B & T who I talked to on Tuesday (and who informed me that I WOULD be getting them) muttered that Harry Potter was a dirty word in the book industry.

So I'm getting 10 copies 4 days after release, which I'm going to be trying to sell for close to full price after probably 80% of the books have already been sold.

Thanks, alot.

My initial instinct which was to say, "Hey, keep your stinking books, I'll order three after they come out....." was right.
Pegasus, too.

I went through my brain-storming session, where it's important not to be negative.

I've been going through my motivation phase all along, and will eventually really sit down and decide -- even if the project pans out -- if I really, really want to do it.

Now its time to look at all the minuses.

Minus One: Really high rent. Yes, it's less per foot, but it's 2.2 times the space.
It's higher than the spaces nearby, it's higher than my wife's store which is actually a better location. I understand the landlord has to pay for his improvements through higher rent, but that shouldn't be MY problem. I've already gotten a bunch of concessions from him, and got him to lower the rent a bit. I'm pretty sure that he won't want to go down too much from where we're at. I've tried to arrange it so we'll be open for a Grand Opening in November, be open during the busy holiday season, have the concessions kick in during the slow winter months. So I'd have a couple month before summer to absorb, and then into the busy season.

Minus Two: The visibility isn't really equal to my wife's. There's trees and cars blocking the vision from the intersection. The space is still raw, and I'm having to visualize the improvements.

Minus Three: The cost. Well, duh. But once I decided I wanted to keep both stores, I realized it would require a real investment in inventory. Plus, if I'm going to do this at all, I want to store to look nice. As long as I'm buying new fixtures, I want them to be modular and consistent.

Minus Four: Employees. Always a risk. I'll have four months. I'd probably hire 2 or 3 different people at 20 hours a week and distribute them through both stores, and see which ones are really interested in continuing.

Minus Five: Work and stress. I had a moment of clarity this week. I was exhausted, dropping things at the store because I was trying to hurry, not quite keeping up. That's O.K.; it was Wednesday, shipping day, and it's always that way a bit. And then yesterday, a normal day, feeling overwhelmed by customers even though the sales didn't really reflect that. And then the thought of ADDING to that -- sobered and scared me.

The cost of walking away. The existing problems at the current store continue. Future problems will still have to be dealt with. Feeling foolish at changing my mind in front of the whole world. De-motivating my current employee who seems really jazzed about being manager. Having to tell the landlord that I've changed my mind -- not wanting to leave him hanging. Because of that, I probably only have 10 days to 2 weeks to make a firm decision. Or at the least, to tell him I'm wavering and he should continue to market the space. (I sort of assume he's already doing that, actually....)

I'd basically have to do about half as well in sales as I do in the downtown store, with twice the space. The economy of scale, the savings in buying merchandise, is such that it pencils out at much lower numbers than the original store. But I don't want to do it half, assed either.

Because I'm leaving the P1 unchanged, it will probably take much, much longer for P2 to gain enough of its own customers to be profitable. But once it does, it will be addition to the customer base instead of substitution. There will be some synergy, some money spent by current customers in both stores, but I'm not counting on that. I know that Linda's store, while paying the bills from the very beginning, also took a year and a half to two years to really get solid.

I know that our little 300 sq. ft. space in the Mountain View Mall generally did only about 60% of the downtown numbers, non-fad years, despite all the foot traffic. Christmas brought that up a bit, but it certainly shows that a second space isn't a sure thing when it comes to sales.

Those are the negatives as I see them. Pretty intimidating. So I'll need to be clear that I will have ways of overcoming those negatives, and the desire to work it through.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

I was going to let what the SOURCE said about my "classic rant" go without comment. I really don't want appear defensive.

But street closures are an important issue, and if no one else wants to take the bull by the horns, I guess I'll do it.

I've said before that I thought street closure events were sacred cows. I more or less avoided the subject except in very general terms for the first six months of my blog. When I finally did speak up, sure enough it blew up in my face.

The Third Rail of downtown politics. It won't make me popular among the downtown merchants who are convinced that street closures are good for business. It won't make me popular among media who make money off the advertising for these events. It won't make me popular with politicians who think they are doing downtown Bend a favor. It won't make me popular in town organizations who invite these events. It won't make me popular among the actual event organizers who make profits off these events. It won't make me popular among the vendors who come to Bend and participate in these events. And it won't make me popular among the people who come to these events and have fun.

About the best I can hope for is that there are a few other downtown merchants who aren't thrilled by street closures. Small business people tend to be an independent lot, who really want to do their business without interference. If you look up preceding paragraph, you can see why they are unwilling to say anything.

First let me say, I am not opposed to events in the off-season, or the off-hours. Events at night don't really affect me (I don't know what it does to the restaurants, they'll have to speak for themselves.) If they want to hold a festival in Sept, or Jan. or May, more power to them. I don't think I would even object to Sundays. Traditional events such as the Christmas Parade and Tree Lighting and the 4th of July Pet Parade are wonderful happenings. I participated in my first Bend pet parade when I was five years old.

I'm also not opposed to events that occur in public venues -- parks and government buildings. I think Munch and Music, the Saturday Markets, the Farmer's Markets, the Art Hops are great.

What I object to is the continuing and ongoing frequency and expansion of events. I object to closing streets at the peak season, (July, August and December), on the peak days, (Fridays and Saturdays), and the peak hours (10:00 to 5:30.)

Each event on its own may be worthy; but when is it too many? Closing the streets in downtown Bend in July and August and December, with the vague unprovable notion that it 'helps' bring down customers the rest of the year, is the exact equivalent of asking a restaurant to close on the Friday and Saturday night so that it helps business on Monday or Tuesday.

Any healthy small business survives on its regulars. Tourists are great, and may make the difference between profit and loss, but you pay your rent with the regulars. I can't tell you the number of times I've had a regular say to me, "I saw the streets were closed and just kept going."

Many of the downtown merchants seem to automatically accept the premise that street closures will bring people back. Is there any proof of this? Has there been any reliable surveys? What I know, after 24 years of owning my store, is the usual drop in sales on street closures is about 20-35%. In summer, this can be significant. I work my store almost every day, and if we are accept anecdotal evidence, or received wisdom, my own experience is that I get very few people back who found me because of an event.

In fact, I wonder sometimes if we are just training people to come downtown ONLY during special events.

I don't want to step on any one's fun. But if your neighbors had a loud, raucous party that kept you up until 4:00 in the morning, you'd grin and bear it the first time and the second time, but if it was every weekend? When does their having fun infringe on your ability to live your life?

Again, I'm not asking that all events stop. But I guess I would like to see a freeze on new events, or expansion of hours. The bike race has always begun at 7:00, hence the Twilight title. 1:00 is not Twilight. Yellow tape warning aways drivers at 10:00 in the morning is a very different thing from Yellow Tape at 4:00 in the afternoon. The difference between making a little money or no money at all.

I would ask everyone thinks I'm overreacting to realize that most downtown merchants are paying some high rents. I should properly have called the vendors "cheese-making, wine-fermenting, clowns," because it wasn't the people who attend these events I was really talking about, but the outsiders who we invite for a nominal fee to soak up the atmosphere that the rest of us create year long, to skim the cream, to benefit without putting in the long hours, and high costs, or everyday business.

For someone outside of this to tell me, "it's good for you", is a little like pushing the soldier into the trench, and saying, "we're behind you all the way..." I work every day in my store, and I'd like to benefit during the peak seasons instead of seeing my business diverted to others. I don't believe these events are really put on for our benefit; they need our acquiescence to put them on, so they tell us what the newer stores want to believe.

But more and more events are not the answer.

So, yes. I call for a freeze on the number and size and hours of street closures. A freeze that will hold through the next incarnation of downtowners and the next city council. A binding freeze.

Is that too much to ask?
I'm giving my brain a rest. It's been turning and throwing off sparks and now it's beginning to give grinding sounds and smell of burnt rubber.

It appears I'm getting my 10 copies of Harry Potter, after all. I'm offering a 'big' 10% discount at 11:00 Saturday morning.

Meanwhile, I'm going to go home and read the book over the weekend before I hear anything about it.

Perfect cure.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Ouch! It's one thing to write what you think on a blog that you don't think anyone's reading, and its another to have parts of that blog reproduced in parts in the Source.

What a nut.


I wish they had made it a little clearer that I was talking about the 1:00 portion of the street closure, not the professional race in the evening. But I DID say cheese-eating clowns, and I can't take it back.
I have found when it comes to big changes, that if it happens naturally, with a certain flow of inevitability, then it was meant to be. If you have to force it to happen, to let your emotions overrule roadblocks, then back down. You can always do it another day.

A real test was about 4 years ago when Linda and I wanted to open a store. We had the books, we had the experience and the desire, Linda was ready, we had a way to fixture the store....but we didn't have a location.

We looked for weeks, but everything we looked at gave us a bad feeling. Too out of the way, too odd shaped, too expensive, too beat-up.

But I'd drive by the corner of Third and Greenwood and say to my wife, "Too bad that location isn't available, because it would be perfect."

And then it became available.

That's kind of what's happening here. This time it was the location that I've coveted for a long time coming open, and the rest is following. I keep waiting for a major roadblock to appear, but instead some of the smaller roadblocks that initially appeared are melting away. Nothings done until its done, but it seems to be progressing.

RULE #1.

Do no harm to Pegasus 1. Keep the same employees, the same hours, the same merchandise. Take nothing out that will hurt the store.

RULE #2.

Don't force it. Let it flow naturally. Keep the calm.

RULE #3.

Keep a cash reserve. Don't resort to credit. Pay as you go. (As much as possible.)

I'm already thinking of fixtures. RULE #3 was going to be, keep everything modular and consistent. Downtown is a hodgepodge accumulation of fixtures. It works fine, because the product itself is so colorful and eye-catching.

Fixtures are one of those things that are EXTREMELY expensive new, and EXTREMELY cheap used.

From the first, I've been a disciple of Paul Hawkins' book, GROWING A BUSINESS, the single best book every written about small business. He maintains that you start small and cheap, let the store grow.

But I'm not a new store. I have a pretty good idea of the kinds of fixtures that might work best. I'm really tempted to spend the big bucks and buy all new fixtures.
Not a decision I need make right away. Something may pop up. In fact, doe's anyone know of any local businesses with fixtures for sale? Anyone going out of business?

This is going to be an ongoing thing....
Well, since I signed a 'non-binding' letter of intent, yesterday, I guess my intent is clear.

I'm planning to open a second store in Bend. Let me be clear -- it is an additional store. Not instead, not substituting for....a complete new store, henceforth know as P2. (I have the idea of a sign with a logo of my flying white horse, alongside a second flying horse that's black, and the letters, "PEGASUS, too.")

I do NOT want to turn this into a round of downtown bashing. I like downtown. I've been here for all of my career. This move is only peripherally motivated by anything that is happening downtown. I have no intention of moving from downtown, or even making any major changes to my operation. I like the way it's going. If I thought this move was going to take away from the downtown store too much, I wouldn't do it. But my experience has been that each store creates it's own clientele. Downtown, in particular, has it own peculiar dynamics that aren't much affected by the rest of Bend.

One of the big surprises when I had a store in the Mountain View Mall, was how little it seemed to affect the downtown store, and vice verse.

Still, there are two main reasons I want to do this: I'm sick and tired of no one knowing who we are. If I get one more person in the door who says, "I didn't know you were here," I'll throw a book at them. Especially if they answer, "I've lived here for 3 years (or five or seven.)"

I go back to my Longview example -- it has grown less than 10% in 10 years, so it probably the reverse of Bend; instead of 75% or more of the population being new in the last 5 years, 75% of their population are existing. You can bet that any store that has been in their downtown for 27 years would be well-known.

Downtown has become a tourist haunt, with a few destination stores like mine. The foot traffic has been fabulous. Beyond my wildest expectations. I may only catch a small percent of that traffic, but, boy, does it help. Still, more and more locals tell me that they don't come downtown, anymore.

When we had a store in the mall -- even at it's worst -- way more people found us. I still get the comment, "I used to shop here when you were at the mall." Well, NO , we were here first, but they never came here.

I also have the example of my wife's store, which has turned out well. I've been envious of her visibility on the corner of one of the busiest intersections in Bend. No foot traffic at all -- just the ability to drive up to the door and get out and shop. More than compensates. In effect, her location is her advertising.

However, those kinds of locations are rarely available. Almost never. We'd all but given up opening a used bookstore before that space came open. We'd looked at spots all over town. I'm convinced that the store probably wouldn't have survived anywhere else.

If you think of the main arteries in Bend, you have to say that 3rd Street (old Hwy. 97) is the biggest north/south commercial street, and Greenwood (Hwy. 20) is the biggest east/west. The other main commercial east/west is Franklin. (Portland/Olney is a traffic artery, but not commercial.)

This is the corner I'm looking at. I've been surprised when I use the Sweetheart Donuts stand, (bright red, on the corner) as my landmark that people don't know where it is, but I'm talking about the building just south of the Murry and Holt car lot on the corner of Franklin and 3rd. The one that has been a furniture store over the years. Great location, lousy building.

The new owner is fixing it up nicely. It's pretty much gutted, right now, so you have to use your imagination, but it fits the number one priority for me to open a new store.


The second reason is even more simple.


I have a thousand square feet downtown. After 24 years of owning it, it has been completely filled, top to bottom. I feel like I'm in a straight-jacket. I can function, but like a goldfish in a small pond, I can only get so big.

The space I'm looking at is 2200 sq. ft. There are many things I can do to generate sales in a bigger space. I would have zero trouble filling it.

Why open two stores? Because the downtown store is doing well. In fact, I can probably carry a second store for a fairly long period of time. So there is no reason to cut that lifeline. I like my store, I think it's a little gem. But it has been cut and polished to a fairthewell.

I have an employee who is doing very well, who knows the store, and who has accepted managership of the store (P1). He'd be doing pretty much what he's doing now, and I'd pretty much be working almost as much in P1 as I am now. I'll never make the mistake of not being connected to a store again. (When I had four stores, in downtown, Mt.View Mall, Redmond and Sisters, I thought I could float from store to store, but my management style just wasn't appropriate for that, nor were the systems solid enough, or the financial strength.)

But I've also learned to give a manager authority to do his job. He's excited by the prospect.

Because the location won't be finished for a while yet, I'll have enough time to plan and prepare. That's big, as well.

The rent is slightly lower than my current downtown rent; probably a little high for the traditional rents on 3rd Street. But it's considerably lower than current rents downtown, and certainly lower than the rents I'm likely the face in a few years downtown.

But wait a minute, I hear you all saying, aren't you the guy who's been saying there is a housing bubble, that the economy is going into the toilet?

Well, no, you mistake me for the other guys. Yes, there has been a housing bubble, which is popping, but I've never really felt that Bend was going in the toilet. And I don't think I'm kidding myself when I say that my particular business can actually flourish at times like this. (I know, I know, that's what they all say.)

I think a new, creatively charged store on 3rd Street might be just what the doctor ordered!

So this blog is going to be filled with all the details or my planning from here on out. I hope it won't bore you all.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I have a new measure for judging the Bend housing market. Listen to Brooks Resources. They obviously have an institutional memory of past booms and busts, which the rest of the developers are lacking. Except, I would probably take their stated 'public' timeline, and double it (as internally, they probably do.)

It's not in their best interest to predict armegeddon, but they are the only local resident developers willing to admit there is much of a problem at all -- and its telling that they are also the oldest and most experienced.

The declines mentioned in the Bulletin are for the last year, of course, but the graphs clearly show the huge declines from the year before that, too.

The median prices are a mystery to me, but unsold houses aren't profitable to anyone, no matter what the price. I suppose prices are sticky and lagging, and will yet come down. Or the inherent building prices of material, labor and land conspire to keep prices up despite a lack of demand.

Condo's are selling? Well, I'd love to know what percentage of the condos built or being built are selling instead of the raw numbers. Still, these are second home buyers, I'm guessing, and people either not here until after retirement or only here for vacations. Not a healthy market for Bend. I think they haven't gotten the word yet that Bend is about to lose its superpowers and become a shlub.

Monday, July 16, 2007

I enjoy Harry Potter. I don't think they're the best or only kids books, and I'm a little disappointed that Harry Potter readers haven't necessarily opened up their minds to other fantasy, but still. They're enjoyable books.

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't seen all the movies or read all the existing books, stop now, go and read them and see them....

The movies and books tend to blur in my mind. The Harry Potter books really are mind-candy for me, and I tend to forget the details pretty fast. Linda is much better at remembering. I'm trying to remember if Dumbledore was offed in the last book, or was it the last movie? etc.

I thought Dolores Umbrage was absolutely perfect in the movie; Linda didn't think she was toadish enough. Linda missed scenes in the Hall of Mysteries and the hospital, I didn't even remember them.

The movies, for all their changes in tone and color and style have remained amazing consistent. Really, they are producers movies, not director's -- or Rowlings pictures, if you will.

Who's going to die in the next book? I figure Valdemort, of course. Snape, probably. I think if she is going to kill either Hermione or Ron, and not Potter, that that's a cop out. So either all three survive, or Harry Goes into the big Obi-Wan ghostly benevolent smile in the sky mode.

Did anyone else get a Sam Gamgee epic monolouge vibe out of Harry's final speech in the movie: "We have something to fight for!"

I've enjoyed the movies. It's been fun and startling to see the kids grow. If I don't come across as a dirty old man, the actress who plays Hermione is going to be a heartbreaker.

I hope Radcliffe can break the Mark Hamill-like curse of Harry.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Fair is fair, again. We did about 1/3 better on Sunday than average, but since it is half as much as a regular day, certainly doesn't make up for the third drop on Saturday, and the half drop on Friday. This slightly better result on Sunday is also consistent with past experience.

Amazing, really, how predictable it really is.

I was delighted not the have the kid stuff in front of my store this year. That is probably more appropriate for closer to the park.

Hopefully, that's it for the summer.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Fair is fair. I said I'd report on sales.

We were 25% below average. I usually estimate we'll drop 33% on these kinds of events, but we've tried real hard to be more attractive to passersby, so we did a bit better than that. But still below average, especially for July....

I'd rather have the streets clear....
I've been mulling over some changes at the store. Some big, big changes. So far I'm in the brainstorming stage, which means any and every idea is open to consideration. It also means I can't talk about it here, because so many of the ideas are crazy, and yet, I don't want you folks to point out all the holes until I've explored every idea.

Later, yes. In fact, later I'll want your input about whether to go forward. Or, if I decide not to go forward, we can do a dissection of the decision making.

I told my neighbor, John, at Pave Jewelry, and he laughed: "Do we need an intervention?"

I've made it no secret that I blow a fuse every 8 months or so. Sometimes I can hold off a year, but then the fuse blows in a fiery explosion of sparks and fire. I know my predilections, and try my damnedest to inoculate myself in advance. But the heart will go where the heart goes, and my poor, pitiful brain can but follow.

My wife, Linda, is no help. She always supports my leaps of faith. She encourages my foolhardiness.

She said a flattering thing, and a wise thing. She said, "I don't have any doubt that you would succeed. You have to ask yourself if it is truly what you want to do."

So that's the question. Do I settle for what I'm doing, which is finally becoming profitable and perhaps even moderately successful? Hey, can't I let myself be secure for even a little while?

Or do I take a wild leap into the blue?

How about playing it conservative and making money and relaxing? Would that be such a terrible thing? I'm going to be 55 years old in a couple more months. My career is in it's final stages. Do I really want to throw it into turmoil again?

Of course, there is no real security in small business. Doing nothing can also be dangerous. And I'm not going to be able to avoid big changes, it's just a matter of timing. I can put it off a couple of years, but big decisions are coming anyway.

I think doing nothing would make me old before my time. I have a desire to create a great store -- which isn't necessarily the same as a desire to create a store that makes great profits. In fact, they may be two different things. Creativity has always been a motivation to me.

Would I be better off being proactive? Getting ahead of the curve?

If I stick to what I'm doing, I'll be moderately successful over the short run, barring disaster. If I jump into a new situation, I put it all at risk. And for what? The excitement? The creative energy? Keeping the Best Minimum Wage Job part, instead of changing it to; A Pretty Good Job that I make better than Minimum Wage?

What often happens is that the fever passes, I come to my senses, I breathe a big sigh of relief. I'm in a very good position of feeling as though I have the option of doing something, but if every condition for success isn't met, I can back down. I've learned not to make any decisions I can't reverse.

I try hard to think outside the box. It's nearly impossible. It means being aware that there is a box, and straining to see it's outlines. It means swooping in at the ideas from odd angles, and questioning every received wisdom. What would happen if? Why not do both? What about doing neither, but is there a third option? When have I done something like this in the past, and what did I learn from it? Step outside the emotion and look at is dispassionately. Throw out the objectivity, and let emotions rule. Let your mind drift, then pounce on the idea. Sleep on it. Drink on it. Play a game of solitaire and give your brain a rest. Think on it some more. What is that weird idea? Is it really so weird?
And so on.

I like to think I love routine. That I don't like danger. That I'm not a thrill-seeking kind of guy. I like peace and quiet. A good book, a glass of wine. A nice movie, a walk in the woods.

But when it comes to business, I turn into a frikken daredevil.

Thanks for listening to my therapy session. The result is....I must be crazy. Yep, I'm definitely crazy. I'm going to go nap on it.
New Liberty Theater owners "...have been approached by three retailers interested in moving to the ground-floor space. A likely shop would be a clothing and jewelry store or gallery."

Well, exactly. Downtown Bend.

Jewelry store.





Jewelry store.






Jewelry store.


On and on and on.....

Friday, July 13, 2007

Same news, different planets.

"Retail Sales take Steep Fall," Matt Drudge. June 13, 2007

"June Retail Sales take Surprise Dip," U.S.A. Today, June 13, 2007

"Retailers post Modest Gains," Bend Bulletin, June 13, 2007

To be fair, the Bulletin's website posts a "Plunge in Retail Sales."
What numbskull decided it was a good idea to close the streets downtown at 1:00? Somebody please tell me how a bunch of bikers whizzing around in front of my store are supposed to help my business?

The tail of promotion is wagging the dog of business.

I was asking John, my next door jewelry neighbor, if after 3 years he still thinks all the street closures are a good idea.

"Well, they definitely don't help on the days they take place, but they bring people downtown."

I give up. Does anyone have any proof that is true? We know for a certain fact that blocking customers from your store isn't good for business on the day they do it. We are supposed to take it on faith alone that it's good for business in the future?

We are training people to come downtown for special events; but I'm convinced that most of these people don't come back downtown until the next special event.

The streets of downtown Bend in July and August would be full of shoppers without getting in their way -- because the shops themselves would attract them. Not the wine-tasting, cheese-eating, folk-singing, clown-suited outsiders who we invite to distract our customers and steal our business.

Let's see, we pay full rent, and not cheap rent, all year long and here we finally have the weekends where we might benefit and instead we invite a bunch of outside merchants to set up in front of our store for a nominal fee and steal our customers?

Huh? What the hell am I missing?

Yeah, yeah. It promotes downtown. It bring people downtown.

Prove it. I don't believe it.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Everything seems to fall into limbo during July and August and Christmas. I'm pretty focused on just the business. Even reading seems to be hard for me to do, much less writing.

The store isn't really all that busy. Its the anticipation that's killing me.

I'm a little perturbed that it looks as though a bike race will be starting very early tomorrow. Hey, I wasn't thrilled when they closed the streets around 5:00 for a 7:00 race, but if they close the streets tomorrow at 12:00 for a 2:00 race, I'm going to be very unhappy.

Meanwhile, I'm just hoping they won't block access to my door to much on Summerfest. One year I showed up, and they had put a huge freezer, 10 feet tall and wide, right in front of my door. I just never know what to expect, except tons of people milling around. It used to be I could count on a 1/3rd drop in sales.

I'll tell you what. Last Saturday, on a scale of 1 to 10, we did 7.5 in business. Not great, not terrible. Lets see how I do this Saturday. You can all guage if it was success or not.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

In many ways, I've got a great situation downtown. In many ways, the store is exactly what I wanted it to be. The store is functioning at a very high level. It would be crazy to move.

But sometimes I daydream about what it would be like to have twice the space. To be able to fill it with fresh clean fixtures. To be able to properly display and organize my merchandise. To have parking spots in front of my store. To have a store like my wife's, where thousands of people drive by every day.

To have a fresh, clean space to start over.

It's a moot point. I signed my lease several years ago when rents weren't quite so crazy; and I still have a ways to go. I have a realistic chance to make money, almost for the first time in my career.

And yet, wouldn't it be cool to design a store from the ground up.

Ah, well.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Reading the tea leaves....

Downtown has been strangely slow. If I look out my windows and see empty parking spaces anymore, I'm surprised. Even in the winter, I was seeing that very seldom. Over the last week or so, it seems like there are always a couple of empty spots. By that measure, we're slow.

Can't quite get a gauge on it, yet. Too early to tell. Outside tables are empty at the restuarants, which makes sense, but the insides don't look very busy either.

The foot traffic seems strangely subdued.

If it wasn't for the fact that Linda's store has been kicking ass, I'd think it was the hot weather. Maybe it is -- she has a drive up location, I have a get out of the car and trudge a few blocks location.

Like I said, tea leaves.

Meanwhile, I had my first customer mention that he lost his job because his employer, a concrete guy, has gone bankrupt. It's hearsay, so I won't mention the name of the company.

Another customer/friend mentioned that his 'main' guy, who had been through the 1980's recession wasn't taking on anymore residential work; and that the other contractor he was working for had decided not to build the next 3 townhouses in a development until the first three had sold.

He also said, a sub-contractor friend of his was selling his van because his hours had been cut from 60 hours a week to 40 hours a week. This also confirms what I thought was probably going on -- that we aren't hearing about many layoffs despite half as many houses being started, because people had been working overtime. But it also confirms my feeling that people spend at the overtime levels....

These kinds of snippets of information usually don't start appearing until well into the cycle. So, I suspect, there is a lot going on, but we won't start hearing about it for a few more months. So far, we're getting a grudging admission that not all is rosy....

Monday, July 9, 2007

I almost feel sorry for the Cali-baggers. Almost, but not quite. The Cali-baggers are the ones tail-gating me in their huge SUV's while conducting business on their cell-phones. (what's so important you can't wait -- why are YOU so important you can't wait?) The Cali-baggers with their McMansions on the hill, or their 1000 or less sq.ft. Westside cottages that they paid 395.000. Who sit outside downtown restaurants on sidewalks that are only 6 feet wide. (enjoying the wind, sun, dust and gas fumes?) You can go in and seat yourself, now, cause there aren't any lines....

The Cali-baggers who have opened their dream stores downtown and have driven rents higher than the Pearl District in Portland. (Umm, nice pants. Do you have any jeans or t-shirts? WOW, I love that 1000.00 lamp, will you take 500.00 at 50.00 a month, and can I take it now? No....? I think I saw a cheap knockoff at Linens and Things for 100 bucks. Bye, bye!)

Thank you, Cali-baggers, for leaving beautiful shops downtown for the next generation of antique stores (junk shops) and Spaghetti mills, and crafter's malls. Thank you for leaving your wonderful Cali-equity, now go get yourself a minimum wage job, drive that SUV for a few more years, and forget about adding that deck to your McMansion.

A few harsh winters, to expose the shoddy construction work, a few natural disasters, (a burning subdivision or two, overrun by deer, rock chuck, and rabid squirrels.) Settle in, lose your Cali-bagger status and become locals, struggling to get by.

Oh, there will still be the Rich, the ultra Rich, out there where the riff-raff can't be seen. They'll wander into your booth at the crafter's mall and complain about the prices. (You know, the stuff you're selling at a loss because your SUV is eating up gas at 3.00 a gallon.)

You can always get cheap entertainment by driving around and looking at all the subdivisions that were halted half done, one third done, one quarter done. All the maze of road leading nowhere. All the utilitie boxes surrounded by pine cones and lava rock. All the tree stumps on lots that are empty. What fun!

Yeah, I almost feel sorry for the Cali-baggers. They are about to become Bendites....
O.K. That's interesting. I've been waiting for that.

Brooks Resources backs out of a project to build million dollar townhouses on riverfront project. This is the first really clear sign I've seen that some developers are having second thoughts. That it is Brooks Resources, a local group with long ties to the community and presumably closer in touch with Bend's economic realities, makes it even more significant. (As is pawning it off on a Portland developer....)

There have been some delayed projects downtown, but there was always a question to me as to whether they were delayed because they were so busy with other projects, or just pure incompetence and lack of financial planning.

But Brooks Resources has always shown themselves to be a smart company, ahead of the game, all the way back to divesting themselves of the sawmills and keeping the property.

I expect we'll see more of this; and I believe anything being built right now is already too late to cash in easily, and anything started from now on is froth that is just simple minded lemming behavior on the part of the developers.

I'm still not getting any sign from my customers of a slowdown; they seem either unaware or unworried. Good. Let them keep their equanimity a bit longer, at least through Christmas. But an objective look at the statistics of housing sales and prices are absolutely dismal.

Brooks Resources appear to be the first one's to not only notice, but actually do something about it. The rest of the developers appear to have put on blinders and are going to build, build, build.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

RATATOUILLE --- Magnifique!

Peter O'Toole as Anton Ego -- du genie pur et simple!

If you've ever had a pet rat -- un visage familier!

Distraction pour adulte/children!

Bon Appetit!

P.S. Just realized, someone might think the movie is in French. Great Pixar Pix.

Brad Bird is my new favorite writer/director, after the Incredibles, and Ratatouille, and I'm embarrassed to admit that I haven't seen Iron Giant, yet.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

When we were first married, my wife and I would trade favorite books. Somehow, that fell away over the years, but I've tried to stay aware of which books Linda loves, and to read one every once in awhile. (I'm asking her to read WATERSHIP DOWN, which I KNOW she'll love.)

She's been a huge fan of the GREEN KINGDOM, by Rachel Maddux, for years. This is a Utopian novel that the author took twenty years to write, lovingly created, fully thought out. Something about the middle of the last century created these lifework novels; ISLANDIA, GREEN KINGDOM, and, of course, LORD OF THE RINGS.

GREEN KINGDOM is about 500 pages, (which Robert Jordan does every couple months, I believe), and it is a full 100 pages before they start off on the journey, and another 60 pages before they get there. Very stately pace. Though it was written in 1957, it feels a century older. Almost Victorian. Everyone gets around mostly on railroads. Cars travel on roads that are undeveloped, with roadhouses along the way. (every night's stay and restaurant a gamble in quality.) It just seems like another world. I was completely shocked by the F*#^ word about 200 pages in. Lots of plot development, diversions, character development. Once I decided to just appreciate the pace and the atmosphere, the story became much easier to settle into.

One of the characters has an obsession with recording people's lives. He wants to create a library of everyone's experiences, from the low to the high, the mundane to the interesting. And all I could think of as I read about this was -- in a way, the blogosphere is doing that.

For some reason, Linda has a fascination with 'lost' worlds. Hollow earth stories; lost continent stories; under and behind the mountains and lakes of this world is another world stories.

This isn't a story you can rush. You have to take your time and savor it.

Friday, July 6, 2007

It's a helpless feeling, these last 8 weeks of summer; just like the last 4 weeks around Christmas. These are all important sales weeks, and yet there is little or nothing I can do about them. If I haven't done my job up to now, I'm not suddenly going to do better, and vice versa.

I always say, they haven't ever cancelled summer or Christmas. But they sure have delayed them! Both seasons used to be about 1/3rd longer; Summer was good in June, and Christmas was good for the two weeks after Thanksgiving. Now, it seems, people wait. Which puts even more pressure on the remaining weeks.

I've had two or three really slow summers over the years, and two or three really slow Christmas's. Mostly, there was no real explanation except statistical anomaly or just bad luck. That is, I think there is a statistical variance of maybe 20% that can happen at any time, that may come down to things out of any one's control, and if it happens at Christmas, you're just out of luck.

This is also the time of most temptation to break budget. Lots of people in the door; lots of demand; but the budget is the budget.

I think I can manage 8 weeks of discipline. If I can't, maybe I don't deserve to be in business.

Linda's store is doing well. She can scoop up the tourist traffic without too much effort in her location, and her sales are much less dependent on the product. (She has plenty of books.) We've been adding bookshelves since we re-upped our lease, which should make it a bit easier to fit the books in.

At my store, I should just look at it as a chance to enjoy the activity, sit back and relax, and feel virtuous in my budget.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Our new wrap around trex deck, which we spent way too much money on, gave us a magnificent view of the fireworks.

When it first got dark, I started thinking about the tens of thousands of dollars being blown up (not counting the professionals on the butte.) Then the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Then the millions of dollars. Just in this little town.

Why do we need musical accompaniment to the fireworks? Can't we be patriotic without the soundtrack? I like Jimmy Hendrix's Banner as much as the next guy, but let the fireworks be.....

The Mountain Gate developers are telling us that, unless we approve what they want, they just might build what we don't want. Which is a bit like saying, if you don't let us fart all we want, we'll poop on your floor. Charmed, I'm sure.

If there was any justice, they'd be bitch slapped out of town.

It's also interesting to me how the same names come up whenever this kind of stuff happens. I first knew this town was in big trouble when the Riverhouse basically paved over the river by building on both sides of what used to be my favorite fishing hole. If I remember correctly, they also paid some fines for cutting down trees next to the river. (Opps! here's some money. Fuggit about it...)

The Riverhouse was also in litigation with the city over the convention center. If I remember rightly, Evert pretty much pulled the same trick; "let us build what we want, or we might build what you don't want."

Same guy. Same trick.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Transformers Generation.

I seem to have found the common denominator in my customers; they all love Transformers.

I feel nothing about Transformers, no hate, no love, no scratchiness, no warm fuzzies at all. If I thought about Transformers back in the day at all, it was to think it was a rather cynical ploy to sell toys.

However, the companies were very smart about advertising the comic on the show. Created a huge customer base. I've always wished that they would put a tag-line on Smallville, or any of the Marvel or DC movies mentioning comic shops.

G.I. Joe is the other common denominator, and another good selling comic back in the day. The first G.I. Joe came out at just the age that a teenage boy (ME) would say, "That's a doll. What do I want a doll for?" This is pre 'action figure' days. This was Vietnam war days.

I also rather dislike Micheal Bay movies. I can almost time the explosions at commercial break intervals. And the sappy sentimentality. (At the end of Armageddon I was just squirming at the pure awfulness of the dialogue, and I remember looking around at the crowd around me and seeing that they liked it. It was as if I was watching a crowd eat some disgusting substance, and licking their lips. Couldn't believe it.)

I know I'm in a minority about Armageddon. But, I'm telling ya, I actually did time the explosions, and they came in like clockwork every ten minutes or so.

Transformers may be a movie I actually go see to stay in touch with my customer base; and because it's getting good reviews. Then again, I'll probably just wait for the DVD.

Its kinda of like electronic gaming, where I'm equally clueless. I hate being 'pop-culture' clueless. But I decided long ago that I simply can't keep up with online games, so I'm not even going to try.

It isn't just age, I think. There are plenty of recent pop-culture phenomenon I love, including ostensibly kid stuff. Ratatouille is for ME dammit....though the kids should be allowed to see it too, I suppose.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

When I read the article on the private bus line from La Pine, it more or less confirmed that -- if there is a need, someone will try to fill it. Someone could do the same thing from Redmond, maybe Sisters, I thought.

The Bulletin took a slightly different tack. To them it was evidence that the government needed to step forward and fill this need.

There was a straightforward acknowledgment that the BAT is a disaster: "...inadequate to the task it's being asked to perform and costing potfuls of money to boot."

Very interesting that our city manager, Andy Anderson, recommended that the city council study the future of the BAT. And not surprising that the council hasn't wanted to open that can of worms. I give the city manager a bit of props for having the courage to admit that the system is out of whack.

Does anyone know of a public bus system that is privately financed? Has it been done anywhere else? Perhaps with public grants, etc? Because the amount of money that is being thrown into the system seems like enough for private enterprise to make money.

Meanwhile, the city council was given first looks at the Les Schwab complex for Juniper Ridge.

Here's where I lose my membership in the old reprobate club of Bend. I don't really think the city council had any choice but to accept Les Schwab. I don't believe that it necessarily sets a precedent: as a small businessman I often give a smokin' deal to the first customer; both as an example, and as a chance to recoup the cost. Anyone who comes later can be told: "hey, you where standing on the sidelines when Schwab came forward..."

I believe we have no choice but to try to make these things work. Now that the BAT is in place, we need to tinker with it until it's at least not bleeding money. Same thing with Juniper Ridge, the Tower Theater, and the parking garage.

I was against the parking garage because I didn't think anyone would use it. I was wrong, and I'm sorry now that the council didn't have the guts to build another level or two.

Nothing gets done if we wait for the perfect opportunity.

That doesn't mean that the council hasn't done a horrible job of oversight and control, or that they shouldn't have their feet held to the fire, or that they shouldn't try harder next time to get it right.

Monday, July 2, 2007

I don't know why the Bend Housing Bubble intrigues me so.

I bought my house in the first couple of months of 2004; a month or two before prices started skyrocket. Even with the worst case scenarios,(78% overpriced) my house is worth about what I paid.

I got in on some of the lowest historical 30 year rates, and have done well enough over the last year to double down on my payments.

Was reading Bendbubble2 analysis of 5 towns, Bend; Naples, Fl; Wichita, Dayton, and Charlotte. Hard to argue with his facts or his conclusions, except to mention that because we are a smaller town than any of them except Naples, we probably have even less adaptability. I agree with his conclusion that Dayton and Charlotte probably represent reality. It seems damning and inescapable.

And yet.....and yet....

I have three really good customers who are sub-contractors, and one really good customer who is a developer. The developer has started a brand new project, convinced that HIS idea is new and workable.

All three of the sub-contractors are not only working hard, but tell me that they have jobs lined up into the future.

None of them are stupid or delusional. They acknowledge that they have co-workers who are cutting back. All are convinced that they are different, mostly because they are working for the 'high-end'.

Anecdotal evidence, to be sure, but it doesn't look like I'm going to lose any of them as customers for the near future.

Then again, I have two adjacent neighbors with houses for sale, and I almost NEVER see anyone looking at them, even on nice weekends in June.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

My dress rehearsal month is over. I always try to come up with a high, middle and low scenario. Our sales came in at 3.6% below my middle scenario.

Not too bad, you might think. 3.6% doesn't sound like much. But break it down a bit more and it becomes 8.2% of gross profits, and break it down further and it becomes 22.3% of net profits (profits after all bills are paid and I've got my minimum wage salary.)

But, hey. At least there is a net profit to be had, which hasn't been true much over most of my career. (When DID my little store become a career?)

But the real point to be made is....sales don't matter. They aren't how I'm gauging success or failure. I can't do much about sales -- they are erratic and unknowable. But what I spend....,that I can do something about.

I made a couple of adjustments to my budget this month; a little tighter accounting of my actual reorders, and a little higher estimate on my overhead, and that seems to have done the trick. For the first time since I started this process back in March, my spending came in where it was supposed to.

So now the real plan goes into effect.

I'm going to try not to worry; I've done what I can. I'm going to be a Buddha Behind the Counter.